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Every worker matters: NTUC Sec-Gen outlines plan to help S’pore workforce tackle uncertainties

NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng addressed the media yesterday (August 11) in a closed-door interactive session with union leaders to share the launch of #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, a year-long series of engagements where NTUC will engage workers from different walks of life to understand their needs and concerns.

This will help NTUC better identify how it can co-create the future of work and strengthen the workers compact, in line with the labour union’s long-term plan to tackle the uncertainties facing Singapore and the workforce.

We’ve done many things over the last two years, but we will not rest on our laurels. We’ll take a deeper dive to see how we can champion the interests of our working people. This means all collars — white collar, blue collar — [and regardless if] you’re an employee, freelancer, younger or older, men or women.

– NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng

Ng acknowledges that Singapore will continue to be tested, especially with the advances in technology and the economic world that will continue to evolve post-Covid.

At the same time, he also recognises the potential of job polarisation, which could potentially widen income inequalities if active measures are not taken to champion the interests of the working people.

How will #EveryWorkerMatters conversations help the workforce?

NTUC’s official banner for #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations / Image Credit: Vulcan Post

According to Ng, NTUC’s objective is to further identify with the anxieties and needs of the workforce.

A recent survey it conducted with approximately 1,000 workers saw a rise in concerns: lack of career progression, lack of bargaining power to negotiate for better employment terms, and an overall lack of work-life balance in Singapore.

Singaporean workers want Singapore to remain meritocratic, open, and have responsive measures toward new challenges. #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations seek to engage with them, understand their challenges, and hopefully in time to come, work with employers and the government to put in proposals and concrete measures to forge a new workers compact.

– NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng

In turn, this exercise also aims to engage with employers, government policymakers and partner organisations, as it listens to the views and aspirations for the social compact around work, including the trade-offs and sacrifices each must make.

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Through the conversations, engagements, and workshops, NTUC hopes its autonomous, independent efforts allows them to have a voice to plug into the larger-planned social compact, hence further enabling them to represent workers’ interests in a clearer and more accurate manner.

A three-phase exercise to “enable, assure, and protect” workers

The first phase of #EveryWorkerMatters takes a divergent approach, and will run from now until end-2022. During this period, NTUC will engage the public to hear their views on the compact with workers.

“We’ll hear from many workers in our own networks, going all the way down to the voting grassroots. This will give us a first-hand understanding of some of the issues faced that may not be said so openly,” said Ng.

He adds that different workers have different concerns. For instance, there are women in the workforce who need flexible working arrangements as caregivers. There are also other segments of workers — those with aged parents and young children, senior workers, young workers, as well as the PMEs — that face other host of issues that NTUC might have yet to hear of.

In its second phase starting in 2023, the exercise will move towards a convergent approach. NTUC aims to organise a series of policy workshops with tripartite partners, Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), civic society organisations, Human Resource practitioners, and other partner organisations. 

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This is to crystallise recommendations and concrete suggestions on how the worker’s compact can be strengthened. Ng recognises that this stage brings about a difficult conversation with employer partners worrying about productivity, and on the other hand, workers’ having legitimate concerns about being burnt out from the different duties they have.

We have to bring in the employers and government to see what we can do collectively to answer the issues in the compact workers contract, and ultimately, deliver first-hand feedback to the government on what these important constituents want to see in the future of Singapore.

– NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng

Finally, NTUC’s third phase for the exercise will encompass looking at surfacing findings from earlier phases and releasing its recommendations by mid-2023. This entails working with 4G leaders and government policymakers through Forward Singapore.

Changing times mean changing the way work works

Although upscaling and rescaling in terms of concrete intellectual ideas has been in NTUC’s repertoire for a long time, Ng clarifies that it’s important not only to update policies, but update the way they are implemented.

The union paradigm was formed in the 1800s. In a new world where labour is more mobile, if you really want to answer to the needs of these segments of the workforce, can we still use a paradigm that is a hundred years old and apply it to a platform space today?

– NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng

Ng also emphasised how NTUC is not looking at a singular method of reaching out to the workforce. 

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“As long as the method is applicable, we are willing to go with it. If we can engage the youth via TikTok, we will try. Whether it is focus groups, a Saturday morning team building with young SME bosses together with union leaders, or bringing in older workers for an informal chat.”

NTUC’s aim is to reach 20,000 individuals across various backgrounds in the workforce. However, Ng reiterated that he is not too concerned about the number, as long as it is a solid representation of the workforce and its needs.

Over the past two years, it kickstarted the initiative by engaging workers across different sectors. Moving forward in phase one, it is looking to zoom in on other exploration challenges it may face.

By changing the paradigm of what it means to represent workers, Ng hopes that NTUC can bring an overarching effort and move forward as the champion voice of the working class in Singapore.

Featured Image Credit: Vulcan Post / CNBC

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