WHEN Chan Chun Sing reports for work at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) next Monday as its new secretary-general, he would have only just passed his 100th day as a member of the labour movement.
The man he is replacing, Lim Swee Say, doesn't think that the relatively short runway is consequential, and that what matters more is that Mr Chan ticks all the right boxes on the list of attributes that the NTUC wants to see in its next leader.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Lim was responding to a question on whether union leaders and workers have had enough time to warm up to Mr Chan so far, ahead of the upcoming leadership transition.
It was back on Jan 23 when the surprising news came that Mr Chan, who was then Social and Family Development minister, had joined the NTUC on a part-time basis.
The 45-year-old, who is now a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was co-opted into the Central Committee four days later and appointed deputy secretary-general. After he joined the labour movement full-time on April 1, he was unanimously elected to take over from Mr Lim as the country's next labour chief.
The fact that the NTUC opted for someone from outside its ranks to be its new leader is not important, said Mr Lim, who mapped out Mr Chan's main attributes which gave the labour movement the confidence that he was the right man for the job.
Mr Chan, a former army chief before he entered politics in 2011, has shown over the past few months that his heart is "in the right place" with the labour movement and the workers of Singapore.
"He engages the ground very well. His office is just next to mine, but I don't see him there most of the time. He's on the ground all the time, going out and talking to workers. He's the type who listens well, and he is able to think and learn very fast," said Mr Lim.
Mr Chan, whom Mr Lim described as someone of "good standing" in the Cabinet, is also able to act as the labour movement's effective link to the government and the tripartite partners.
Mr Lim described him as the NTUC's link to the future, given that he is going to become a central member of Singapore's fourth generation of leaders. "I'm happy that my successor is the right person to lead the NTUC into the next stage of growth, development and achievement," said Mr Lim.
"He has the core attributes that will make him an effective secretary-general, but time will tell. So far, the reaction on the ground has been positive."
Mr Lim, who is gearing up to become the new Manpower Minister from the coming Monday, also spent time during the two-hour interview at the NTUC's headquarters in Raffles Place recapping his time at the labour movement. The 60-year-old has served two stints in the NTUC. He first joined in 1996 and became deputy secretary-general a year later. He left to join the government in 1999, but returned to the NTUC in 2004, where he was its deputy secretary-general once again; he became labour chief in 2007.
Mr Lim later spoke briefly about his new role as manpower minister, a post he is familiar with, given the NTUC's long and extensive links with the ministry through the tripartism model of unions, government and employers working together.
He said he planned to leverage his connections to the NTUC and the local business community to find common ground to work on in order to move into the future.
Mr Lim said Singapore was fortunate because many of its problems today were "problems of success", not problems of failure, which are much harder to solve.
Other countries may struggle with issues such as a lack of jobs and a difficulty in bringing workers and employers together, but not in Singapore.
"In our case it is a problem of success - a tight labour market, not being able to hire enough workers or workers that (companies) want. Likewise, workers have a lot of expectations on career development and advancement," he said.
He added that he hoped to convert the existing initiatives at the Ministry of Manpower into tripartite programmes over time.
"I will first identify the core priorities that we have to do in the next three, five, 10 years and turn them into tripartite programmes. In other words, I want everybody to be together and to be part of the solution. I think that can be a better outcome for all," he said.
This article was first published on April 28 2015.
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