SINGAPORE: For the month of May, union members of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) can look forward to having their daily fix of coffee or tea at S$0.50 a cup.
This will be available to them every day for a month at more than 90 NTUC Foodfare and Kopitiam food courts and coffee shops here.
Union members can continue to enjoy these discounted hot drinks every Wednesday from June. This will last for a year.
Members of the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations are also in for a treat. From July until end-June 2020, they too will be able to buy a cup of coffee or tea at S$0.50 on every Wednesday at all NTUC Foodfare and Kopitiam outlets.
This initiative, set to benefit more than 1.7 million people, was announced as part of NTUC’s May Day message on Thursday (Apr 25). It comes on the back of FairPrice’s moves to help alleviate concerns about costs of living, such as freezing the prices of 100 house brand products until next June.
READ: FairPrice cuts prices of more than 50 house brand products; discount for Merdeka Generation shoppers
“NTUC FairPrice has led the way in keeping the prices of essential products low,” said a joint message by NTUC president Mary Liew and the labour movement’s secretary-general Ng Chee Meng.
The acquisition of food court operator Kopitiam last year also extended NTUC’s ability to make cheaper cooked food more widely available, they said.
Affordable breakfast sets will be offered at 52 outlets from June, up from the existing 25. These sets, consisting of a hot beverage, toast and two soft boiled eggs, cost S$1.80 each for NTUC union members and S$2.20 for the public.
NTUC Foodfare is also looking to increase the number of its Rice Garden outlets to 55 by the end of this year. There are now 45 such outlets offering cheap mixed rice meals as part of a social outreach programme designed for the lower-income group.
“The labour movement understands that cost of living remains a key concern of our workers, and will continue to address this in both the immediate and long-term,” said NTUC in its press release.
TRAINING HELP FOR WORKERS
Apart from addressing immediate concerns, NTUC also has the long-term needs of workers in mind amid rapid disruptions.
“Securing better work prospects for workers is a key imperative given the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. Workers must be trained in tandem, as Workers 4.0, to not only keep up with this transformation, but secure better work prospects,” said the labour movement in its May Day message.
It will work with companies to form training committees, which will plan and implement programmes to help workers keep pace with new technology, elaborated Mr Ng in a separate session with reporters.
“The longer-term strategy must be to enable our workers to like new technologies and forge better new prospects,” he said. “The company training committees will also converge company interests and worker interests (to) help companies transform in tandem with workers.”
Thus far, 18 companies, such as SIA Engineering Company and in-flight catering service provider SATS, have worked with the union to form such training committees.
NTUC is hoping to accelerate that and form training committees in 1,000 companies across all six industry transformation map groups over the next three years, benefitting about 330,000 workers.
To do so, it will have a dedicated group of training specialists working with union leaders and industrial relations officers.
As it helps workers to transform, the labour movement said it also has to keep up with the times.
It noted how it has, for instance, formed the Supply Chain Employees’ Union to represent workers of all levels, including higher-level professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), in the logistics industry. It similarly repositioned the Singapore Bank Officers’ Association last year to allow more workers on board.
This year marks 50 years since NTUC held the Modernisation Seminar in 1969 - a “pivotal point” where the labour movement ditched confrontation for cooperation with the Government.
As such, it is important for the labour movement to keep innovating and re-inventing itself, said Mr Ng who assumed the post of labour chief last year.
"Whether you are a PME or rank-and-file, NTUC would want to be relevant to you and be able to represent you. Not just in the traditional areas of protection, but in terms of training, career progression and placements.”
DISCUSSIONS ON RETIREMENT, RE-EMPLOYMENT AGES IN “ADVANCED STAGE”
On the closely-watched issue of tweaking the country’s retirement and re-employment ages, Mr Ng noted that discussions by a tripartite workgroup are now in the “advanced stage”.
Earlier in March during the Committee of Supply debates, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had said that the Government, unions and employers have reached a consensus on the matter. The tripartite workgroup will work out details on how far and how fast adjustments should be made, before submitting a final recommendation later this year.
During the Budget debates, Nominated Member of Parliament and veteran unionist Arasu Duraisamy had asked for the retirement age to be raised from 62 to 65, and the re-employment age from 67 to 70.
Mr Ng said while that is the labour movement’s "aspiration", the workgroup needs more time to iron out details.
“We are conscious that businesses will be concerned about the impact on cost and this is where we will help our older workers upskill and reskill so that they can contribute productively if they so wish to continue working.”
Once a consensus is reached, the workgroup will ensure that changes are implemented in a phased approach so that all stakeholders have adequate time to adapt, he added.