Photo from Khaw Boon Wan’s Facebook page

It was reported that Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan has been given the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC)’s most prestigious award, the Medal of Honour, by Minister-in-PMO Ng Chee Meng, who is a 4th generation PAP leader and current Secretary General of NTUC. He was presented the award at the NTUC May Day Awards ceremony yesterday (May 3).

Khaw is said to have received the award for his contributions to Singapore’s workforce and tripartism.

The citation for Khaw said that under his leadership, centralised academies such as the Singapore Rail Academy and Singapore Bus Academy have been set up to train public transport workers. To improve rail reliability, he started the “early closure, late opening” initiative to give rail engineers and technicians more time to safely maintain the MRT lines, it mentioned. He also visited workers at depots, interchanges and tunnels to understand their daily work and challenges, and celebrate key milestones.

The NTUC also highlighted Khaw’s role as chairman of the council of advisers of the Education Services Union since it was formed in 2006. He was vital in identifying the rapid growth in the private education industry and has seen the union’s membership grow from 4,500 members in 2006 to 25,000 now, it said.

As PAP chairman from 2011 to 2018, Khaw also “affirmed and nurtured” the longstanding symbiotic relationship between the party and the NTUC, the citation said, even though NTUC in fact, actually comes under the direct control of the government and PAP. The PAP government does this by always appointing a Cabinet Minister cum PAP CEC member to take charge of NTUC.

Past PAP Cabinet Ministers who were also Secretary-Generals of NTUC include:

  • Lim Boon Heng
  • Lim Swee Say
  • Chan Chun Sing
  • Ng Chee Meng

In any case, the citation praised Khaw, “(Mr Khaw’s) belief in prioritising workers and his continuous efforts in advancing tripartism have left an indelible mark on the lives of our workers.”

Independence of NTUC

In spite of the “longstanding symbiotic relationship” between PAP and the NTUC, that’s not to say there is no independence of thinking inside NTUC.

Before the late Ong Teng Cheong became the first elected President of Singapore in 1993, he was the Secretary-General of NTUC. In fact, he went on to sanction a rare union strike against a company openly in 1986 at the displeasure of his fellow PAP Ministers inside the Cabinet.

Mr Ong told Asiaweek in a rare interview before he passed away, “In January 1986, I did sanction a strike, the first for about a decade.”

“It was in the shipping industry where the management was taking advantage of the workers. I did not even tell the cabinet about sanctioning the strike. And some of them were angry with me about that,” he added, revealing the events happened inside Cabinet meetings.

“The minister for trade and industry (Tony Tan) was very angry, his officers were very upset. They had calls from America, asking what happened to Singapore? — we are non-strike. I said: if I were to inform the cabinet or the government they would probably stop me from going ahead with the strike. It only lasted two days. Then all the issues were settled. It showed that management was just trying to pull a fast one. So I believe what I did was right.”

The interviewer then asked Mr Ong, “You have never been afraid of doing something your ministerial colleagues might disagree with?”

Mr Ong replied calmly, “No. If they don’t like it, I can always come back here to my architecture firm.”

It’s not known if the present secretary-general Ng Chee Meng would be afraid of doing something his ministerial colleagues might “disagree with” for the benefits of the workers.

And if he did and his ministerial colleagues did not like it, it’s not known if he could go back to his previous job as Chief of Defence Force in the SAF.

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