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Ng Chee Meng: NTUC on track to reach 1.5 million members by 2030

The NTUC Secretary-General also outlined three broad strategies to continue helping workers.

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By Nicolette Yeo 22 Nov 2023
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Model ID: 4815635d-86e1-471f-85ae-03527ce10d7d Sitecore Context Id: 4815635d-86e1-471f-85ae-03527ce10d7d;


NTUC is on track to reach its 2019 target of 1.5 million members by 2030.


NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng announced this on 22 November 2023, the first day of the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference (NDC) at Orchid Country Club.


Some 1,500 union delegates, NTUC Central Committee members, cabinet ministers and tripartite partners attended the event. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was guest of honour at the event.


“Our membership is expected to reach 1.27 million by the end of 2023. This marks a remarkable 30 per cent growth since NDC 2019. 


“It is both a show of strength to what we can achieve together as a Labour Movement and a testament to how our innovations have upped our Labour Movement’s relevance in a very much changed world,” he said.


Mr Ng believes that more workers are joining NTUC because the Labour Movement has delivered on its promise to achieve better wages, welfare, and work prospects.


Read the full details of NTUC’s achievements in the past four years here.


Look back: NTUC’s key achievements in the last four years

With an ongoing commitment to prioritise workers, Mr Ng highlighted that NTUC has intensified efforts to realise its strategy to innovate its business, training, and membership models and digital transformation.


Here are the highlights of the achievements: 


Lower-wage workers: the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) was expanded, and wages were raised across different sectors, impacting 135,000 lower-wage workers. Work prospects were increased, with clear and defined career pathways.


Vulnerable platform workers: NTUC has championed a potentially first-in-the-world innovation with employer CPF contributions, workplace injury benefits, and formal NTUC representation.


Mature workers: NTUC and its tripartite partners have raised retirement and re-employment ages to 63 and 68 respectively and are restoring CPF contribution rates. 


Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) workers: Established partnerships with some close to 900 SMEs to better serve SME workers. Such partnerships did not exist four years ago.


Professionals, Managers and Executives (PME): NTUC and its tripartite partners have levelled the playing field for local PMEs with the Complementarity Assessment Framework and upcoming Workplace Fairness legislation. They are also working with the Institute for Human Resource Professionals and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) to certify 12,000 HR practitioners to ensure fair employment practices.


• Youth: NTUC is working to support better school-to-work transition with the new Career Starter Lab pilot and a Starter Membership to meet youth’s work, live and play needs.


Caregivers: NTUC launched the C U Back at Work initiative, a first-of-a-kind programme that offers 500 redesigned roles with flexible work arrangements for women with caregiving needs. It is also working with employer partners to provide paid caregivers leave in unions’ collective agreements to better support workers’ caregiving needs.


Cost of living: NTUC FairPrice has introduced over 2,000 quality housebrand products that are more affordable than national brands. FairPrice has also rolled out initiatives such as “Everyday Low Price”, which holds the price of 50 popular essential items every month, and “Price Drop, Buy Now”, which offers weekly discounts of up to 50 per cent on selected items. In addition, NTUC-U Care Fund has disbursed some $24 million to help lower-income members cope with various challenges, including rising costs.


Beyond championing workers, Mr Ng also highlighted NTUC’s important role in tripartism and the political economy to promote conducive labour-management relations for business and economic success.


In her speech, NTUC President Mary Liew added that the Labour Movement’s achievements are underpinned by tripartism.


“Sisters and Brothers, the success of the Labour Movement is not a secret; it all boils down to tripartism. 


“I have shared on many occasions how union leaders from other countries admire the actualisation and effectiveness of Singapore’s tripartism – this is not just empty talk, [there] is a lot of hard work going in, real action and results,” she said.


Mr Ng took the opportunity to thank NTUC staff and union leaders for the achievements. Mr Ng also thanked tripartite partners for their support, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng, and SNEF President Robert Yap.


NTUC’s Strategy

Mr Ng outlined three broad strategies to continue helping workers.


1. Innovating Union Model

The first strategy is to expand on NTUC’s successful efforts. Mr Ng shared that NTUC will scale up efforts to support all-collar unions, especially for PMEs.


“As our workforce becomes increasingly PME-centric, there is an urgent need to extend our scope of representation to include PMEs in collective bargaining and onboard PMEs into union leadership,” he said.


He cited the ST Engineering Staff Union and Supply Chain Employees’ Union as two all-collar unions with rank-and-file and PMEs helming top leadership positions and enjoying a higher influx of members than most unions.


Mr Ng said more must be done to ensure unions are more representative of rank-and-file workers and PMEs.


He added that NTUC will also take a complementary cluster-based approach for unions. 


“With a cluster approach, unions can muster broader networks and deploy whole-of-integrated NTUC capabilities to hunt together, capture broader space to inflow new members beyond the current reach of individual unions, and better serve workers at an industry cluster level.


“This cluster approach can explore common work plans that align our efforts. Unions can plug into the larger economic picture, keep abreast of emerging opportunities surrounded by new technologies and know the challenges that are coming to our shores... As a Labour Movement, we can develop training programmes together with the relevant industries that are emerging, and importantly drive cluster level collective agreements that can benefit both workers and employers.,” Mr Ng explained.


The NTUC Secretary-General shared that NTUC will harness its digital membership platform to increase the inflow of members through a seamless sign-up and onboarding process and reduce outflow by enabling movement across unions and associations and within the ecosystem. This will also create stickiness by leveraging Artificial Intelligence technology to ensure programme relevancy.


Mr Ng said NTUC will also ramp up the Company Training Committee (CTC) initiative and tap into the $100 million NTUC CTC Grant to make a greater impact.
“In the last four years, we have formed 1,700 CTCs and trained or upskilled close to 125,000 workers.


“Employers tell us they find it useful and treasure it; workers are benefitting from it; and importantly, our unions are able to link Industry 4.0 development to workforce upskilling and upgrading in tandem and in parallel,” he said.


Mr Ng added that 120 business transformation projects from 94 unique companies have been approved under the NTUC CTC Grant. These projects have borne fruit, with workers, including PMEs, are expected to enjoy an average 5.2 per cent wage increase.


He cited the DynaMac-Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union CTC, which tapped on the grant to enhance the firm’s employee value proposition. As a result, 24 DynaMac employees who have upskilled to be more productive will receive an additional four per cent wage increase on top of their regular annual increment.


“I hope we will redouble our efforts and see if we can exceed our earlier goals of 2,500 CTCs by 2025.


“It is not about the number, but the good we can bring in terms of better wages and better work prospects for our workers,” Mr Ng added.


2. Innovation culture


The second strategy is to entrench an innovation culture within NTUC to ensure the Labour Movement’s relevance in helping all collars of workers.


To do this, Mr Ng said NTUC has set up an Innovation Lab to implement an institutional innovation capability, survey the best ideas from different parts of the world and apply them to the NTUC context, and partner with stakeholders to ideate and test potential solutions to problems.


“This is an important capability that we must develop well that not only allows NTUC to respond to challenges but proactively anticipate and seize new opportunities to positively impact our workers,” he explained.


For youth, Mr Ng highlighted that the new Innovation Lab could explore having a full suite of youth-centric services to help with employment and employability.

He envisions an Innovation Lab ecosystem where NTUC works with external partners to turn #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations recommendations into action. This includes helping older workers with fair employment and training opportunities, caregivers with greater support to balance work and caregiving needs, and mid-careerists, including PMEs, with career resiliency and deep skills acquisition.


3. Leadership development 


In view of an ageing union leadership and fewer young leaders, the third strategy is to strengthen the Labour Movement’s leadership development.


To do this, Mr Ng emphasised that NTUC must induct more leaders and train them to be representative and effective for the diverse workforce.


NTUC also needs to find the right blend of veteran leaders with experience and practical wisdom and younger leaders with youthful dynamism and ideas to lead younger workers, including PMEs.


“We must redouble our efforts to recruit, develop, and groom our leaders so that they can contribute to and champion our Labour Movement cause, and importantly, build our organisational capability building in a meaningful and sustainable way,” Mr Ng elaborated.


He said there is an urgency to equip leaders with relevant knowledge beyond industrial relations and collective bargaining to operate in an increasingly complex space. 


To do so, Mr Ng shared that the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute will hold courses, workshops and talks. These engagements aim to provide leaders with insights into global, economic and industry trends; workplace-related issues such as performance management systems; union leadership areas like governance and stewardship; and Labour Movement initiatives such as PWM and CTCs.


These engagements will also focus on practical application through case studies and role playing. With this approach, union leaders can better understand the complexities and nuances of workplace issues and provide effective support to workers.


Mr Ng added that NTUC will also double efforts to induct youth leaders into union leadership. This will enable NTUC to better connect with youth and have the right blend of leaders to lead and serve workers of all ages.


“We will need future leaders who are anchored on our NTUC purpose to better the lives and livelihoods of our workers. 


“Leaders who will strive towards a high-performing NTUC that effectively champions the interests of our workers, and leaders who are always people-centred in what we do,” he elaborated.


He highlighted the Creative Media and Publishing Union and Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union as examples of two unions that successfully groomed and inducted youth leaders, and have veteran leaders to guide them.


Next frontier: Dare, Do, Take Action


As he lauded the Labour Movement’s accomplishments in the past four years, Mr Ng encouraged the NTUC community to move forward with the Dare, Do, Take Action approach.


“Each time you wear this red U-tee, wear it proudly knowing that we Dare, we have the mettle to innovate to break new ground. That we Do, using our heads, hearts, and hands, and make it our NTUC habit in tangible ways to better lives and livelihoods.


“Let us Take Action and make the next four years count, with a single-mindedness to put the people we serve and our people at the centre, achieving high performance as NTUC in all that we set out to do, and always, always, having our purpose etched in our hearts,” he said.



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