Labour movement pays glowing tribute to Swee Say

THE National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Wednesday paid a glowing tribute to its outgoing secretary-general Lim Swee Say, who earlier in the day tendered his resignation. He will vacate the post on May 4, the day he is to become Singapore's new Manpower Minister, with Chan Chun Sing - the current NTUC deputy secretary-general - taking over as the country's labour chief.

In a letter to Mr Lim, NTUC president president Diana Chia said she accepted his resignation "with deep regret" and thanked him for his many contributions over the years.

"Be it on the factory floor or in parliament, you spoke passionately for workers' aspirations and concerns. When needed, you persuaded the government to devote resources to help workers," she wrote.

"You steadfastly helmed the labour movement through the good times and the bad, even if it meant going against the rising tide. You exemplified what it means to help workers not just with our heads, but also with our hearts," she added.

She went on to describe how Mr Lim, who had been secretary-general since 2007, juggled many challenging roles, including that of cheerleader, striker, defender, goalkeeper, coach and strategist.

"You used stories to convey your messages, slogans to make your points stick, flipcharts to simplify difficult concepts, laughter to show your humility and tears to show that you cared," she wrote.

Under Mr Lim's watch, the NTUC helped workers with employment and employability through various initiatives and programmes, fought for their rights and urged companies to cut costs to save jobs during economic downturns.

"You inspired many a union leader and staff to stay positive and to always do their best to help workers and their families," said Ms Chia. "Together, we steered the labour movement to be pro-worker and pro-business as we believe that the best welfare for a worker is a job, and the best protection for a worker is full employment."

Mr Lim, 60, served two stints in the NTUC. He joined the labour movement in 1996 and became its 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.

In a Facebook post, Mr Lim described his time serving the interests of Singapore's workers as "the most meaningful period" of his work life.

"I assure my fellow unionists that I will continue to be pro-worker, and I also assure our management partners that I will be pro-business too. After all, the two are not necessary in conflict," he said. "They are the two sides of the same coin. Mutually reinforcing, we can continue our journey towards a healthier economy, a more progressive society and a better Singapore for all."

As for Mr Chan, he is now preparing for life as NTUC's secretary-general from May 4. The 45-year-old joined the NTUC on Jan 23 on a part-time basis, and was co-opted into the central committee and appointed deputy secretary-general four days later.

He became a full-time employee on April 1, and will relinquish his two appointments as Social and Family Development Minister and Second Defence Minister on Thursday. He will remain in the Cabinet as a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

The new appointments were part of a wider reshuffle of some key roles in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Cabinet. The changes were unveiled on Wednesday.

In his Facebook page, Mr Lee wrote: "Swee Say has done a lot in NTUC - helping workers to upgrade themselves, finding them new jobs when they were retrenched, assuring them that they did not face globalisation and international competition alone. Chun Sing will have much work to do building on what Swee Say has done, but I am confident that he is up to the task."

This article was first published on April 9, 2015.
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