Cabinet minister Chan Chun Sing has joined the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), in what is seen as a precursor to him taking over as labour chief.
Mr Chan, 45, Minister for Social and Family Development, will be with NTUC part-time with immediate effect and will be there full-time from April 1, the Prime Minister and labour movement announced yesterday.
He will be appointed NTUC's deputy secretary-general next week, and is slated to run for union elections later this year, moves that signal the start of a leadership transition process in the labour movement.
These make him the likeliest candidate to succeed current labour chief Lim Swee Say.
Mr Lim turns 62 in July next year and will not be able to serve beyond then due to an NTUC rule to encourage leadership renewal.
Mr Chan's surprise move was announced to about 150 union leaders at NTUC Centre yesterday. At the briefing, Mr Lim said that Mr Chan joining the NTUC will beef up its leadership ranks.
Responding, Mr Chan said that he was "humbled" that union leaders welcomed him.
"The priority is to get to know the unions and the people," he told reporters after the briefing.
He added that he will leave the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) "with a tinge of sadness" in a few months' time, but added that he is confident the ministry "will be in good hands".
NTUC's central committee formally wrote to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday to request that Mr Lee consider releasing Mr Chan to join the labour movement as early as possible.
Mr Chan, the 17-member committee said in the letter released to the media, was a suitable Cabinet minister who "can strengthen labour leadership at the NTUC" and help ensure effective tripartism - ensuring the interests of workers, businesses and the Government were aligned.
The move will "put in place the succession for the NTUC secretary-general", the letter added. In his reply released to the media, Mr Lee said he supported the NTUC's choice.
"I agree fully that tripartism is a key asset of Singapore. I also agree that we must continue to strengthen the NTUC's leadership and maintain its strong links with the People's Action Party government," Mr Lee wrote.
"I am confident that in the NTUC, Chun Sing will make a positive contribution in all these respects," he added.
Mr Lim became NTUC secretary-general in January 2007, taking over from Mr Lim Boon Heng, who led the NTUC for 13 years.
Mr Chan, who is also the Second Minister for Defence, was the youngest member of the Cabinet when he was appointed Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports after the May 2011 General Election.
Mr Chan is not new to union circles. He is the chairman of the National Taxi Association, which has more than 13,000 members.
Unionists at yesterday's briefing were surprised by the sudden announcement but said Mr Chan was a natural fit. "He is very sincere, we feel that he will have the heart for working people," said Mr Ma Wei Cheng, general secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees.
PM Lee said on Facebook that Mr Chan will continue in MSF and Mindef till April 1, and remain in the Cabinet with Mr Lim.
"He will leave gaps when he goes over to NTUC full-time. I will announce Cabinet changes to fill the vacancies after the Budget session," Mr Lee added.
This article was first published on Jan 24, 2015.
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