We catch up with new NTUC President Mary Liew who opens up about her NMP experience and her key areas of focus for the future.
She is the second woman trade union leader to rise up to the ranks of President of the National Trades Union Congress in the history of the Labour Movement in Singapore.
Mary Liew Kiah Eng, 52, is also the general secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) and was first elected to the NTUC Central Committee in 2011.
President Liew, whose personal motto is “Serve To Lead”, said union work is all about professionalism, integrity, caring and sharing and the ultimate beneficiary is every worker in Singapore.
On Her Focus Areas
NTUC President Mary Liew: The outcome from the National Delegates’ Conference is very clear, we will be focusing on Care, Fair and Grow.
The essence of it is really about the dignity of workers. We want the working people to know that this is a Labour Movement which truly CAREs for them and we want the lives of our workers to be better and this is what we are doing. We talk about FAIR- we want employers to treat them fairly in every aspect of work. And GROW, I have talked about membership being the lifeblood of unions, and without our members, there is no existence of unions.
On Her Memorable Cases as a Unionist
There was a case where a ship captain, who was working for a Hong Kong company that did not have a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the SMOU, died of a heart attack while at work.
I went to visit the wake and the wife told me that the company told her that there was no insurance pay out or anything.
I was so upset and affected and because of that, together with my colleagues, we did our groundwork. We realised that the company was unionised with the Hong Kong Seafarers Union which we have some relationship with. That’s where we came in even though it is not our CBA. We fought for it.
At the end of the day we managed to claim US$200,000 for the family. This is a message to my young colleagues as well. What if we just stop there and say sorry, this is not our CBA company, I don’t think we can do very much. But we refused to put a stop and we must pursue.
On SkillsFuture and Tripartism
For SkillsFuture, we will need to be proactive in seeking out what our specific industry and sector would evolve into years from now and start planning ahead so that our workers will not be in for a rude shock to find that our skills are no longer relevant one day.
We must also be actively involved with the relevant Government bodies and employers in the discussions and implementations of SkillsFuture, in other words, pervasive sectoral tripartism to be practised across the board. What I would really like to see is for SkillsFuture to “tripartise” not just at the national level but down to specific industry and sector.
While the Hotel, F&B and Maritime sectors are making great progress, we want to see the other sectors coming on board as well, and that the inputs by our unions will be seriously taken into consideration by the Government for implementation.
On Her NMP Days
When I first started as an Nominated Member of Parliament, one of our union brothers congratulated me and sent me a touching message that he has the trust and confidence in me and that I would speak up for the workers. He also mentioned, ’Please don’t forget us when we need your help‘. That really moved and spurred me to know more about our workers’ conditions, especially the low-wage workers, and that was how I began to talk about the life of a bus driver in Parliament.
What really touched me was when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the opening dinner of the National Delegates’ Conference on 26 October 2015, the bus captains at the dinner came up to me and thanked me for speaking up for them. They told me that their salaries and wages were ok now and that brought joy to my heart.