Labour chief calls for nation of better customers

Shoppers outside Lucky Plaza, Orchard Road.

Workers providing a service are not the servants of their customers, said labour chief Lim Swee Say, as he called for a nation of better customers in his annual May Day message released yesterday.

Overly demanding customers would cause even more of a strain on the labour crunch, which is here to stay for years to come, he added. "As we strive to become a more advanced economy, we must also strive to be a nation of better customers and better people."

Although Labour Day on May 1 has traditionally been used by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to celebrate workers' contributions to Singapore, the labour movement is turning its focus - for the first time - to customers, with a campaign to get them to show more appreciation to workers.

"Instead of complaining that the service standard in Singapore is still not good enough, why don't you ask yourself 'Are the customers in Singapore good enough?'" said Mr Lim, who is NTUC secretary-general.

To kick off the campaign, 1,000 union members will fan out across Singapore on Labour Day this Thursday to say "thank you" to 100,000 workers.

NTUC is also mulling over plans to get workers to highlight model customers. The effort could help firms cope with the labour crunch, said Mr Lim, noting that workers are shunning service sector jobs as "customers are adding to the stress".

He also warned: "The labour market will remain tight until 2020, and even tighter all the way to 2030."

He explained that the local manpower growth will slow with the ageing population, and that curbs on foreign workers will continue. To cope, "employers have to learn to make better use of every worker and treat every worker better". Workers, on their end, should not take job certainty for granted and keep upgrading their skills, he added.

In a separate message yesterday, NTUC president Diana Chia said unions will step up the drive to get more workers from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to join unions, because SMEs hire "a large proportion" of the labour force.

"We do this because we believe that no worker should be deprived of the benefits of union members," she said. This ranges from having a union to speak up for workers when negotiating with employers to shopping rebates at FairPrice.

NTUC has some 780,000 members, including over 70,000 from its youth wing, and retirees. There are about 140,000 foreign workers and 570,000 local workers.

NTUC kicks off its May Day celebrations tomorrow, where it will hand out over 100 awards to firms and individuals at a dinner at Orchid Country Club.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will give his annual May Day Rally speech this Thursday at the new Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East, named after the former president who was a union leader.

This article was published on April 28 in The Straits Times.

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