Showing posts with label NTUC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NTUC. Show all posts

Friday, July 29, 2016

Farewell to STU General Secretary Edwin Lye

From 1 August 2016, while you start your daily routine, history would be made.

For the first time in Singapore's history, a senior Trade Unionist will start work in the Employers Federation. The Vice President of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and General Secretary of the Singapore Teachers' Union, Mr Edwin Lye Teck Hee, would leave the labour movement and join the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

The average Singaporean would probably see it as an ordinary switch in career. Casting your sight beyond Singapore, you would realise that it didn't make much headlines only because this is Singapore, where the Government, Employers and Unions enjoy a constructive relationship. This trust and collaborative relationship is otherwise called "Tripartism", and often cited as Singapore's National Treasure.

Indeed, if hashtags were a measure, Tripartism is so rare globally that in Instagram, you find mostly photos from Singapore with #Tripartism.

How else would cross-posting of public officers and trade unionists, and senior trade unionist receiving a SNEF award and becoming an Employer representative be imaginable?  In most countries, getting trade unionists and employers to sit together would be already too much to hope for. International Labour Organization's Director-General Guy Ryder once said, "Singapore tripartism passes the essential test of good results." 

It seems it really passed the test.

Photo with Edwin on his last day in STU office

It has been 10 months since I got seconded to the Singapore Teachers' Union. Learnt a lot from Edwin on proactive Industrial Relations and Union operations. Edwin has always been an open and patient Union Leader who takes the effort to explain the historical context and thinking behind any actions taken, and does so with great clarity.

Here's wishing Brother Edwin all the best on his new role at SNEF!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Former President S R Nathan was nearly dismissed by then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee

Former President S R Nathan was once a Seamen's Welfare Officer, a role that did not have a defined job scope, and frequently saw his role fused with that of the Seamen's Industrial Relations Officer. That was before he was seconded to NTUC to set up the Labour Research Unit and acted as a guarantor for the Laju Hijacking incident.

In hist most recent book - Why Am I Here? - Mr S R Nathan shares his experience as a Seamen's Welfare Officer, in the 1950s/1960s, when seamen were generally vulnerable and enjoyed minimal employment rights from shipping companies.

Coincidentally, Mr S R Nathan turns 92 today (3 July).

Some interesting insights from Mr S R Nathan in this book:

Goh Keng Wee wanted to dismiss S R Nathan

Then Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee, whose purview included the Marine Department, had demanded that Mr S R Nathan be dismissed for one of his unsuccessful representations made to the Swedish consul general who had the final say. Fortunately, wise counsel prevailed and he kept his job.

Why the book was named as such

Mr S R Nathan thought of quitting his job as a Seamen's Welfare Officer, following an incident when a seaman lodged a complaint to Political Secretary to Finance Minister, Lim Chin Siong. That was when a Father Fox asked him, "Have you ever asked yourself why you are here?" Father Fox then continued, "Over the period that you have worked in this job, how many have walked through that door, relieved that you had solved their problem, or helped them face their difficulties? Perhaps they have not shown gratitude, but in their heart of hearts they would have left in the belief that there was someone like you to turn to in times of need. You must understand that it is not in the nature of Man to be grateful. So in whatever you or I do for others we must never expect gratitude... think through this question - why am I here? If you think deeply, you will get your answer. It will come through your conscience."

S R Nathan got the Bishop to rein in errant management who were Christians

Thinking out of the box - "Having failed via the media (to shame the bad employer), I sought the Bishop of Singapore for his help, which he initially turned down. After some harsh exchanges with the Bishop, reminding him to draw his congregation's attention to the need for his flock, among whom was the particular shipping company's top management, to be Christians in "deed", I got back a reluctant but favourable response."

Brotherhood of the seamen

A helpless widow, grieving over the loss of his seaman husband, came to seek help and Mr S R Nathan explained to those in queue that he will attend to her first. One man was displeased and went up to Mr Lim Chin Siong's office to complain. Mr S R Nathan was summoned to his office and asked why he ignored the queuing rule and that he should get everyone to wait their turn. A group of seamen in the queue came to know about it and stormed up to see Mr Lim. "In anger, they almost accosted him, saying that if they could wait, why couldn't the particular young man wait?" Mr Lim then called Mr S R Nathan to ignore what he had said earlier. Later the group of seamen went to look for the young man and "threatened him with bodily harm if they ever saw him in the area again".

S R Nathan had a part to play in getting Singaporeans employed on luxury cruises

On 28 September 1960, 220 Indonesian crew walked out of a Dutch luxury liner in support of Indonesian's dispute for the return of the Dutch New Guinea. "Several hundred world cruise passengers were left stranded on board." Realising that "this involved several hundred jobs that were immediately available at a time when unemployment was serious", Mr S R Nathan convinced then DPM Toh Chin Chye, who then "undertook to accept responsibility for any legal complications and any political repercussions or labour agitation that arose out of the matter". "Some policemen working at the then Harbour Board wharves even discarded their uniforms and went on board. They saw it as an opportunity to get to Europe or the United States, without having to pay the cost of travel." From the resolution of the incident, further opportunities to man other cruise ships came to Singaporeans.

The organising of Seamen

In 1971, the Singapore Organisation of Seamen (SOS) became the first truly national trade union for Singapore seamen. In 1956, there were at least 8 Unions, some with dubious interests as they also owned boardhouses for seamen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What if Singapore had no NTUC FairPrice?

A friend invited me to a dialogue session hosted by NTUC FairPrice CEO Mr Seah Kian Peng. I was pleasantly surprised that Mr Seah actually took time off his busy schedule to converse with a small group of us who are keen to find out more about FairPrice and its social purpose.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, but I felt obliged to attend as I had accumulated many questions on FairPrice, some shared to me by friends, some by union members in the course of my work (I am an Industrial Relations Officer at NTUC Administration & Research Unit, an entity different from NTUC FairPrice, Income, LearningHub, etc - a clarification I often have to make to those unfamiliar with the Labour Movement). 

I have structured my blog posts with the burning questions that I had, and possibly what you have as well, and how my doubts and concerns were addressed.

Some Brief History on FairPrice

NTUC FairPrice was set up in 1973 (formerly known as NTUC Welcome) amidst the global oil crisis, providing Singaporeans with affordable prices for essentials.

While setting up NTUC FairPrice, large retail supermarts added pressure to suppliers to prevent them from supplying to FairPrice. This triggered a response from then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who officiated the launch of the first FairPrice outlet at Toa Payoh, "Any wholesaler who withholds popular or fashionable goods in great demand from this co-op supermarket, to give it to his pet retail network, will be bucking not only the labour movement but also the government."

Source: NTUC This Week

FairPrice is a social enterprise, which is registered as a co-operative, hence subjecting it to the Co-operative Societies Act. This includes the channeling of profits as dividends to members of the co-operative, which in this case includes Unions and their members. 

Moderating Cost of Living

Perhaps some of the most pertinent questions everyone would have of FairPrice are:

"If FairPrice's mission is to keep prices affordable, why is it that this item is cheaper at S**** S**** supermart?"

"If FairPrice aims to keep prices affordable, why is it catering to the high-end market (FairPrice Finest)"

As a social enterprise, NTUC FairPrice helps moderate cost of living in Singapore by adopting the following strategies: 

1) Housebrand items

FairPrice currently provides 2,600 Stock Keeping Unit (SKU) of Housebrand items that are at 10-15% cheaper than national brands. Housebrand items also attract further discounts if you are a Union or FairPrice member, subject to certain terms. The prices are lower due to cost-savings from advertisement and marketing.

On questions of quality of Housebrand items, it is interesting to note that the items are manufactured by reliable companies (FairPrice has a food hygiene department which inspects on food quality). Taking the example of FairPrice bread, it is actually produced by a company that also retails its popular brand of bread products at FairPrice.

2) Maintaining low price of basket of 500 Daily Essential items 

FairPrice conducts regular price surveys to ensure that the prices of the combined basket of 500 daily essential items are kept at the lowest price in the market. Yes, it is easy for another retailer/supermarket to sell a product at a lower cost than FairPrice, but if you add up all the 500 daily essential items as a whole, FairPrice guarantees the price to be lowest. 

Some items are also priced at least 20% cheaper than national brands and they are demarcated by a yellow dot (Lowest Price). Not forgetting the Senior Citizen discount on Tuesdays.

3) Removing uncertainty and anxiety during times of crisis 

During times of crisis, the lack of information and anxiety could result in people stockpiling food items and driving prices upwards. Hence, FairPrice is proactive in keeping a consistent supply of food items (rice stockpiling too), through contract farming and diversified food sources.

FairPrice embarks on contract farming locally and internationally, and currently has over 80 contract farms. Besides ensuring consistent supply, contract farming also promotes resilience for local farms too, by purchasing whatever they produce, despite the higher cost due to their lower economy of scale. Such local farms include SG Fish and Skygreens.

During the SARS epidemic (2003), the supply of vegetables were affected due to the closure of Pasir Panjang wholesale centre. FairPrice helped stabilise the prices of vegetables by importing from new sources and assuring Singaporeans that there is sufficient supply of vegetables. To prevent opportunists from profiteering, each person was allowed to only purchase a maximum of $10 of vegetables. FairPrice also helped pack and deliver food to those who were quarantined.

During Bird Flu (2004), FairPrice helped curb profiteering by traders and lead in dropping egg prices when normal supply was restored.

By being the last to raise prices and first to drop prices when supply stabilises, FairPrice achieves the social objectives of moderating prices. In order for FairPrice to do so, it has to be good at what it does and have the scale to be impactful. Just imagine if FairPrice only had one outlet, which other retailers would be pressured to follow FairPrice's price movement?

4) U pay the same for Product A at FairPrice, FairPrice Xtra or FairPrice Finest

FairPrice adopts a Uniform Pricing Policy, which means that you can purchase the same product for the same price at FairPrice, FairPrice Xtra or FairPrice Finest, and regardless of whether the outlet is in Orchard Road or at Bedok Reservoir Road.

Besides all the above mentioned, FairPrice also absorbed GST for 2.5 years when GST first introduced and when it was adjusted.

Enabling Local SMEs

When a new FairPrice is set up at the heartlands, some people might be concerned that the entry of FairPrice would crowd out the Mom and Pop shops. So how is FairPrice helping SMEs?

1) SME Suppliers Support & Development Programme (SSDP)

This programme helps local SME suppliers via shortened payment terms of 30 days instead of 60 day. FairPrice also shares data to enhance their capacity. FairPrice also promotes local produce via Tasty Singapore Fair.

2) Benefiting residents and businesses

A new FairPrice outlet actually provides tangible benefits to residents and businesses. Neighbourhood shops around the outlet benefit from increased human traffic. For shops selling similar items as FairPrice, they would feel the pressure even if the new entrant was any other retailer and supermarkets.

And in case you are wondering if FairPrice enjoys any special treatment in securing venues for its outlets, the answer is NO. It has to join in the open tender and bidding procedures, together with its competitors.

Corporate Social Responsibility

FairPrice publishes its CSR policy online and holds itself accountable to public.

In terms of employment, 90% of its employees are Singaporeans and Permanent Residents. The foreign workforce helps to manage the night shift operations as more FairPrice outlet goes 24/7 (so when you visit FairPrice in the wee hours and find a higher proportion of foreign workers, please be understanding). About 40% of its employees are above 50 years old, higher than the national average of 30%. It is also an equal opportunity employer and engages people with Special Needs.

The Management-by-Attachment programme sees all management staff spending two days a year at the stores performing operational tasks such as cashiering and replenishing stocks.

FairPrice Foundation receives an average 2 sponsorship requests a day to support various community and charitable events.

And there's the Share-a-textbook programme that collects used textbooks and channelling them to those who need them.

So what if Singapore had no NTUC FairPrice?

After hearing Mr Seah speak with passion and conviction in FairPrice's social mission and purpose in Singapore, I can't help but ask myself, what if Singapore had not NTUC FairPrice? How would prices be moderated, especially in times of crises leading to anxiety and food shortages?

It would be interesting to know how other countries cope with such situations. In some countries, citizens bear the full brunt of food price increases. In some others, governments subsidise the cost of essentials. 

Singapore's model is a unique one and I think there are plenty of merits to such a model. As a co-operative, everyone could hold shares in the social enterprise by being an NTUC member.

So next time when you have the choice of shopping at different supermarkets, you would know which to visit :)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

LOL in Ho Chi Minh City

4-6 July 2013

Went for the annual IRO teambuilding which took place in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The theme this year was LOL - "Live the Moment, Optimize the Strengths and Liberate Our Hearts and Minds".

Notre Dame Cathedral

As a former Participating Youth (PY) of SSEAYP, travelling to ASEAN countries meant an opportunity to catch up with PYs. Glad to be able to meet up with some of the Vietnam PYs even though I notified just 2 days back.

Ane welcomed us to her To Coffee Cafe at District 3.

While traditional cafes operate on the business model of having clients sit and chat with their friends, To Coffee is experimenting a take-away coffee concept. It also sells coffee powder grinders and filters for customers to DIY.

Ane holding her newborn baby

Dinner was at a street-side eatery.

Appreciated Hien taking his time out travelling 1 hour just to have dinner with me. And happy to know Ivy is now a Teen Magazine journalist. 

The following day, the Amazing Race began.

Photo with Pho2000 in our background

The subsequent rain in the evening didn't douse our fighting spirit. Running around Ho Chi Minh City and trying out local activities were pretty cool.

On the last day, met up with Thu and Quang of SKY programme, which Eunos CC Youth Club hosted in 2011 and 2012. Quang brought us to a new city in District 7. The man-made lake, the infrastructure and environment were impressive. One wouldn't even see the difference between Singapore and this part of the city.

Vietnamese Lunch at Thu's place was splendid.

Hope to visit Vietnam again!