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Tributes pour in for Stephen Lee

Outgoing President of the Singapore National Employers Federation was both pro-business and pro-worker, say Government and tripartite leaders.

SINGAPORE: Government and Labour Movement leaders past and present paid glowing tribute to Mr Stephen Lee, who on Wednesday (July 30) announced he would step down as President of the Singapore National Employers Federation, a post he has held for 26 years.

Mr Lee presided over economic downturns in the mid-1980s, 1997, 2001-2 and 2008-9, as well as the SARS outbreak of 2003. The Public Service Star awardee was active in pushing for wage reform in the 1970s, resulting in the performance-wage system prevalent in Singapore today.

He also led employers to reach tripartite consensus in extending the retirement age from 55 to 60 in 1993 and up to 62 in 1999, as well as implementing re-employment up to age 65 in 2012.

He will be succeeded by Dr Robert Yap on Sept 1 this year.


Said Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin: “Stephen’s dedication and commitment to tripartism in Singapore is exceptional. In his own unique ways, he has helped shape the tripartism model as a centrepiece of our economic competitiveness. He has personally established a close rapport not only with many of his fellow employers, but also with union leaders and government representatives. 

"His contributions to industrial peace and harmony and to the economic progress of Singapore cannot be overstated."

The NTUC hailed the "unassuming, down-to-earth" Mr Lee's contributions to tripartism.

"As a distinguished tripartite partner and a respected leader in the business community, he has played a key role in growing and maintaining the strong tripartite partnership as well as mutual trust and respect between employers and labour unions all these years," said the Labour Movement in a statement.

"Over the decades, Brother Lee epitomised the spirit of tripartism, always adopting a fair and balanced approach when managing major issues that had great impact on both businesses and workers. While he echoed the views and concerns of the business community he represented, he has always been ready to understand workers’ issues and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both employers and workers."


NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say spoke highly of Mr Lee's ability to be simultaneously pro-business and pro-worker.

"Stephen Lee is high up on the list of tripartite leaders who have made a huge contribution since the birth of Singapore Tripartism more than 40 years ago," said Mr Lim.

"Stephen Lee is naturally pro-business as a leader representing the interest of the employers. Yet, he is pro-worker because he embraces both as two sides of a same coin. At all times, he reflects clearly and firmly the views and concerns of the business community. Yet he also listens and is receptive to the views and concerns of the unions and workers.

"His willingness to seek common ground and ability to mobilise the employer ground to act in concert for the mutual benefit of businesses and workers have distinguished him as the most outstanding tripartite leader we have ever had from the employer community."


Mr Lim Boon Heng, the former Secretary-General of NTUC, recounted a poker session with unionists as an example of how Mr Lee took the time to bond with those he worked with.

“It is hard to find a person like Stephen Lee. He is an employer who understands employees, their hopes and aspirations. He mixes easily with union leaders and workers, forging good relations," said Mr Lim.

"Some years ago, we invited him to join unionists in an off-site workshop. He was invited by some union leaders to a drink and a friendly game of poker. The next day he told me about it, and said he felt bad about winning their money! I am sure he made up for it with a good dinner and drinks later! As Secretary-General, I had a good working relationship with him. He was consultative, and objective.”

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