5 things we initially didn't notice about the new 'NTUC cabinet'

Leadership renewal at the NTUC.

Martino Tan| November 07, 11:53 AM

Last week, 416 delegates from NTUC's 60 affiliated unions elected the new 21-member NTUC Central Committee (CC), for the next four years.

The new 21-member committee - the NTUC's apex decision-making body - was elected from 27 nominees after a secret ballot at the National Delegates Conference (NDC).

What are the implications of this NDC election? Here are 5 things we didn't initially notice about the new NTUC cabinet:

1. NTUC Sec-Gen Chan Chun Sing passed another test with flying colours.

Maybe it is his call to engage Generation Y workers and their causes. Or perhaps it is his focus on the PMEs.

But the delegates liked what they saw and heard and voted for Minister Chan in a huge landslide.

How big is the victory?

Lianhe Zaobao scored a scoop by informing its readers that the Sec-Gen scored more than 90% of the votes.

Zaobao_scoop_Chan_Chun_Sing Screenshot from Lianhe Zaobao

No such exclusives from The Straits Times though.

Just check out how wrong The Straits Times was regarding who the next NTUC President would be:

Union sources said the frontrunners for the top NTUC president post are two incumbent vice-presidents: Mr K. Karthikeyan, 56, and Mr Edwin Lye, 45.

Mr Karthikeyan is general secretary of United Workers of Petroleum Industry and was the NTUC's nominee for the Nominated MP post in the last Parliament. Mr Lye is general secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union.

Maybe it is because The Straits Times was too gleeful with NTUC missing its membership target:

NTUC_ST_article Source: Straits Times

Here's what Straits Times wrote:

It is unusual in Singapore for targets to be set and missed, so the labour movement admits it may have been stretching itself too far when it set a target 10 years ago to have a million union members by about now.

Yesterday, labour chief Chan Chun Sing conceded that with its current 888,000 union members - including students and retirees - the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will fall short of the one million mark this year.

The target set in 2005 was a "stretch target", said Mr Chan at a media briefing as he sought to downplay the missed mark.

To make amends, The Straits Times decided to publish this weird commentary, highlighting NTUC's "clout and impact" by comparing NTUC to a political party.

Political party? You heard right. This was what ST's award-winning correspondent Toh Yong Chuan said,

"Just for some perspective - if NTUC were a political party, it would overshadow even the Workers' Party in Parliament. It has six elected labour MPs in the House - as many as the WP - and it can count on alumni members such as House Speaker Halimah Yacob, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, who were former top union leaders."

By the way, one can use the same analogy and apply it to law firm Drew & Napier, Raffles Institution Alumni, Anglo-Chinese School alumni, and Singapore Armed Forces alumni.

2. MP and Assistant Sec-Gen Patrick Tay elected as part of the 21-member CC

Source Source

There are currently three MPs who are NTUC Assistant Sec-Gen, but only MP Patrick Tay is elected as part of the 21-member CC.

Check out this press release by NTUC on Oct 29,

"The new NTUC CC has endorsed the recommendation of Secretary-General to reappoint Mr Heng Chee How as Deputy Secretary-General, and Ms Cham Hui Fong and Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan as Assistant Secretaries-General.

Separately, the new NTUC CC also appointed the following as Assistant Secretaries-General into the Secretariat of the NTUC CC, they are: Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Ang Hin Kee and Mr Zainal Sapari"

What does that mean? With Deputy Sec-Gen Heng Chee How now 54, Tay could be the front-runner to take over him as Chan's right-hand man.

This situation bears some similarities in 2011, when both Heng and Ong Ye Kung were running for the NDC election.

3. Institutionalizing the female president role in NTUC

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 5.01.01 pm

The newly elected NTUC President Mary Liew, 52, is the general secretary of Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union and has been with NTUC for 35 years.

The former NMP took over from Diana Chia. Chia, 55, was NTUC's first female president in 50 years. The senior nursing manager at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and the general secretary of the Healthcare Services Employees' Union has more than 20 years of experience in union work.

Ten men have led NTUC as Sec-Gen since 1961. Will the role of NTUC President be helmed exclusively by women in future? One statistic of course does not make a trend.

4. The NTUC is managing the retirement of its key leaders better

Known as the "Flow In, Flow Up and Flow On" approach, a resolution was passed in 2011 for members of the CC to "flow on" upon reaching the statutory retirement age. (Editor’s note – Minister Lim  Swee Say has previously explained this concept in a Mothership.sg interview a year ago).

However, it created a less than ideal situation during its last term (2011-2015). By the end of its term, only sixteen out of 21 members were left in the CC.

In the current CC, none of the 21 CC members are 59 years old and above. In other words, none of the CC members will retire mid-term.

Former President Diana Chia is 59 years old and decided not to seek re-election for the same reason. She told The Straits Times, "as I cannot serve the full term, I think I should leave and let the new leadership take over."

However, there are three CC members who are 58 years old, including both Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Financial Affairs.

5. Composition of the NTUC Central Committee


The new CC has eight new faces. As Sec-Gen Chan noted, the new CC is a “balanced team”, with members from the industrial sector, services sector and the public service sectors.

The average age of the NTUC CC is nearly 49 years old (48.76 to be exact). Its members range from 39 to 58 years old, with its two youngest members 39 years old. They are Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union deputy secretary-general Andy Lim Tze Khong and Port Officers’ Union president Benjamin Tang Chun Wai. Tang was also the youngest member in the last CC.

Although the number of women in the current CC is the same as the previous one at four, there were more female office-bearers in the previously – Former Deputy Sec-Gen and Speaker Halimah Yacob and former Assistant Sec-Gen and Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo.

At a press conference in 2011 after the NDC, then Labour Chief Lim Swee Say pointed out the four women and four non-Chinese on the slate, and the members' average age range (48.8 years old).

This trend remains largely the same as the current CC has an average age range of 48.76, four women and five non-Chinese.

In other words, the top leadership will need to identify more female leaders and more leaders in their mid 30s in order to be both balanced (in terms of sector) and representative (age, gender and race).


Top photo from Chan Chun Sing Facebook.

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