A couple of weeks ago, a member of the public, Foo Sing Kheng, wrote to ST Forum asserting that that the labour chief post should be held by a Cabinet minister (‘Forum: Labour chief post should be held by Cabinet minister‘, 17 Jul).
Singapore’s Labour Chief, Ng Chee Meng, now no longer sits in the Cabinet as he was voted out in the recent general election held on 10 Jul this month.
Mr Foo said that he believes most workers will disagree with NTUC president Mary Liew’s explanation why Ng Chee Meng should retain his position as secretary-general of NTUC.
“NTUC shares a longstanding symbiotic relationship with the ruling party, which was reiterated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year,” Mr Foo said.
“Due to this relationship, for decades, the NTUC secretary-general has been appointed to the Cabinet. This speaks volumes about the level of importance and trust the Government places on the position of labour chief.”
Hence, Mr Foo thinks that with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic causing huge job losses in Singapore, NTUC will surely need a leader in the Cabinet who can push for workers’ welfare and interests.
“It would be difficult to convince workers that their interests have been taken care of if their labour chief is not a Cabinet minister,” Mr Foo added.
Mary Liew wrote back to ST. Her reply was published on ST Forum yesterday (‘Forum: Labour chief represents voice of workers‘, 27 Jul).
She pointed out that the position of secretary-general of NTUC is elected by union delegates and the NTUC central committee. Ng was elected last October.
“This is an election process that is independent of our national political process. The fundamental role of the secretary-general is to represent the voice of workers,” she said.
“In Singapore, our unique model of tripartism takes centre stage in industrial relations, where unions, employers and government develop and shape policies to balance the interests of workers, companies and the nation.”
She added that all 3 parties would “always strive and collaborate towards the same goals to promote harmonious labor-managment relations and boost Singapore’s economic competitiveness”.
That is to say, it doesn’t matter if Ng is in the Cabinet or not. In Singapore’s tripartism, it is the Manpower Ministry headed by Cabinet minister Josephine Teo who would represent the government.
So, if it’s not essential for the labour chief to be also a Cabinet minister, it begs the question why all previous labour chiefs like Lim Boon Heng, Lim Swee Say and Chan Chun Sing were all appointed as Cabinet ministers earlier. Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence?