Service-sector unions tell President of job fears amid headwinds

President Halimah Yacob with National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew and its secretary-general Ng Chee Meng at yesterday's dialogue with union leaders at the Istana. The President is confident that the 24 unions in the service sector can h
President Halimah Yacob with National Trades Union Congress president Mary Liew and its secretary-general Ng Chee Meng at yesterday's dialogue with union leaders at the Istana. The President is confident that the 24 unions in the service sector can handle the potential difficulties.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Workers in the service sector are worried about the looming dark clouds heading their way in the face of global uncertainty, an impending economic downturn and restructuring of the industry.

These issues were highlighted by unionists when they met President Halimah Yacob at the Istana for a closed-door dialogue yesterday.

The President, who had been in the labour movement for about 30 years, later told reporters that she was confident the 24 unions in the service sector would be able to handle the potential difficulties.

The reason for her optimism? "Our unionists have had the expe-rience of going through such a downturn and recession."

Citing the 2009 global financial crisis, President Halimah said the unionists gained experience in helping and supporting workers through the difficult period.

"So, it is not as if you are coming in completely new, without any experience in dealing with downturns and how to support workers."

The President met more than 60 union leaders for over an hour, during which they raised issues concerning the headwinds confronting them as a consequence of the global uncertainty.

"They are concerned about how that will affect their workers and their sectors," she said

The union leaders were also worried about the general restructuring of their industries.

 
 
 

President Halimah cited issues such as climate change and the use of renewable energy, which would impact especially the energy sector.

But in the past decade, she said, Singapore has made "tremendous" efforts to improve the skills of workers, citing the SkillsFuture initiative and programmes by Workforce Singapore.

"These are programmes and skills that will support and help the workers," she said, when they have to seek alternative employment.

She added that past experience has shown that the unions are strong enough to support workers and their families in a downturn.

If there is a downturn, it should also not divert Singapore from its long-term strategies, she said.

These include strengthening workers' capabilities, which should be done regardless of the state of the economy, she added.

The meeting was the second of three that the President is holding with union leaders.

The first was with leaders of industrial unions, and the last will be with union leaders of public-sector workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2019, with the headline 'Service-sector unions tell President of job fears amid headwinds'. Subscribe