Trade unionist awarded for efforts to protect, encourage transport workers amid Covid-19

National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) general secretary Fang Chin Poh at the NTWU office on April 23, 2021.
National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) general secretary Fang Chin Poh at the NTWU office on April 23, 2021.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - When Covid-19 reached the shores of Singapore, Mr Fang Chin Poh got busy fast.

The National Transport Workers' Union (NTWU) general secretary spent long hours addressing the concerns of fellow transport workers, ensuring their workplaces were safe, and helping Malaysians stuck here due to border closures with their accommodation arrangements.

The 61-year-old also worked hard to ensure no public transport workers were retrenched and that no pay cuts would be suffered by any rank-and-file workers.

It was hard initially, the public bus driver said.

"We had to explain to them why they had to keep a safety distance or check their temperature.

"There were some who were stressed or disappointed that they couldn't go home, so we would visit (them at) their interchanges or accommodation to encourage them," Mr Fang said.

For his contributions, Mr Fang - who has been active in union work for about 40 years - was conferred the Comrade of Labour (Star)(Bar) award at the May Day Awards.

The accolade is given to trade unionists who continue to make significant contributions for four years or more to the labour movement after having received the Comrade of Labour (Star) Award.

Mr Fang, who also serves as a grassroots leader and member of the Woodlands Citizen Consultative Committee, has previously received other May Day honours, as well as the Public Service Star.

Being a union leader is "a thankless job", Mr Fang admitted, adding that he gets a sense of satisfaction from resolving the problems faced by union members. The issues he handles range from addressing unfair complaints from public transport commuters to making sure bus captains have time to eat their meals.

"When people come to me, I help them," he said. "I want them to have better work conditions and a better environment to work in."

It helps that he has been a public bus driver for about 40 years - his first and only job since completing his national service. What keeps him going is meeting people from different walks of life every day.

Under his leadership, NTWU ensures most public transport workers continue to receive modest wage increments in recognition of their contributions and sacrifices. He also works closely with industry partners and public transport operators to promote training programmes to help public transport workers upgrade their skills.

Mr Fang will soon be stepping down from his general secretary post after 22 years, but he hopes to continue driving and mentoring other bus captains.

This is not the end, the father of three noted. "If the union needs my help, I am always willing to contribute my experience."