You could call Vinodkumar Kanthammal the poster boy for union leaders.
When he is not busy maintaining vehicles that support defence aircraft, you can find him on the ground addressing fellow colleagues’ working woes, negotiating with management to improve their welfare, and recruiting new union members.
Currently serving as a branch official at an engineering firm, he considers voluntary union work a worthwhile endeavour as lives and livelihoods are on the line.
His company is unionised under the NTUC-affiliated Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union (SISEU).
Branch officials like Vinodkumar act as the bridge between workers, union, and management.
Through walking the ground, they raise workers issues and concerns to the union. The union, in turn, brings these problems to the company management’s attention. Thereafter, with the support of the branch official, the union works with management to resolve the problems.
The Power to Help Workers
The 54-year-old maintenance technician actively spreads the message that the true power of a union membership lies in its ability to protect workers and champion their workplace rights.
“I believe that union membership benefits, not just privileges, should be shared with all members. The union will step up when there is a crisis at work and NTUC will take care of every worker. Union and management will work together to give workers a better future.
“I encourage more lower-income workers, especially the seniors, to know more about NTUC and join the membership. The workforce is ageing, so they must know their rights,” he said.
With the rising cost of living weighing heavily on workers’ minds, Vinodkumar is planning to raise the topic of salaries with management, among other things.
“The cost of meals has gone up, so our incomes must gradually go up,” he said.
As a new branch official — Vinodkumar was elected in early 2023, he has also been taking courses to improve his industrial relations knowledge.
“I’ve learnt about workplace fairness and the law at work. It helps me ensure there is fairness at the workplace and people are not ill-treated,” he explained.
Vinodkumar also makes it a point to guide management in communicating more effectively to its multi-national workforce. For instance, he will encourage them to use different languages to disseminate important messages.
The dedicated branch official’s desire to help fellow workers extends to his migrant workmates. He is currently assisting a migrant member with a paternity leave claim.
The Power of Training
Singapore has been working overdrive to upskill and reskill its workforce.
It’s all in the name of helping workers stay relevant in their jobs and be equipped to take on future challenges.
Vinodkumar firmly believes that training plays a pivotal role in enhancing workers’ career prospects. As his company undergoes digitalisation, the significance of upskilling has become more critical than ever.
“Training is good; changes are always for the good [of the people]. Whenever they send you for training, it is to help you improve.
“With new technology, we need to know the equipment and how to operate and maintain it. There’s less time taken to do the job so we should be more productive,” he explained.
At his company, workers with multiple skills stand a higher chance of promotion because they can be easily deployed to handle different jobs and tasks.
“If you have more than one skill, you are versatile, you can multitask. The company is looking for people who can do more than one thing. It is an added advantage and will help you in future,” he said.
Vinodkumar also believes that upskilling can help workers like him prepare for retirement.
“Now at my age, if I take a surveillance course, it can help me become a surveillance officer at another company when I retire,” he explained.
The Power of Caring
As they champion the needs of fellow workers, union leaders like Vinodkumar can also count on NTUC to look after their needs as a member.
As the sole breadwinner of a family of five, including his homemaker wife, two school-going children aged 10 and 19, and elderly mother, he, too, has been concerned about rising costs.
The NTUC-U Care Fund has helped the longtime union member to cope with the higher cost of daily necessities and spend quality time with his family. The Fund consolidates NTUC’s fundraising efforts to improve the welfare of lower-income union members and their families.
“I’ve been using the NTUC Care Fund (e-Vouchers) to buy groceries and my children’s schoolbooks from Popular, and school shoes from BATA. The vouchers have helped a lot to lessen my burden.
“I’ve also attended the Family Fun Fiesta about five or six times with my family,” he shared.
Visit NTUC-U Care Fund to find out more about the NTUC-U Care Fund or donate to the charity.
Union members can head to NTUC Care Fund (e-Vouchers) to apply for the vouchers from now till 15 December 2023.
Log on to NTUC Union Membership to apply for union membership.