SINGAPORE: Education Minister Ng Chee Meng and Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon were appointed as Deputy Secretaries-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Monday (Apr 23).
The two office holders were also co-opted into NTUC's Central Committee with effect from Monday, it added in its press release.
The two men were introduced to about 150 key union leaders by President Mary Liew and Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing on the same day.
In a letter to the NTUC President on Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he acknowledged the Labour Movement's request to release Mr Ng, who is also Second Minister for Transport, to serve the union, as he intends to ask Mr Chan to return to Government.
He agreed to release the Education Minister to serve NTUC on a part-time basis on Apr 23 and full time from May 1 onwards.
Mr Lee added that Dr Koh will serve in the Labour Movement from Apr 23 on a part-time basis while concurrently retaining relevant Ministry appointments. Dr Koh is also Senior Minister of State for National Development.
He "will be an additional interface between the Labour Movement and Government agencies", the PM said.
"I agree that strengthening the training and skills of working people, and expanding the Labour Movement's outreach to new groups of workers, are key priorities for the next phase of our development," Mr Lee wrote.
"I look forward to the Labour Movement's continued support and contributions as we work together to improve the lives of Singaporeans."
MOE EXPERIENCE WILL BE USEFUL
Speaking to reporters on Monday evening, Mr Ng said he was "honoured" to be invited to join the Labour Movement, and one of his priorities will be to go to the ground and understand the needs of workers, and not just transport workers, which he has previously engaged with.
He also touched on how his experience at Ministry of Education (MOE) translates well with his new appointment.
"In MOE, I was happily educating and nurturing the young for the future," Mr Ng said. "At Labour Movement, it will be an extension of that" through areas such as equipping workers and preparing them for future jobs.
Mr Chan concurred, saying in his Facebook post on Monday that NTUC will "benefit greatly from Chee Meng's experience in MOE and the various leadership roles he has assumed in his career".
Asked if this appointment means he is leaving MOE, Mr Ng simply sought "patience" and for reporters to "wait a little while more" for the announcement on the Cabinet reshuffle, which Prime Minister Lee had said will take place this week.
Ms Liew had sent a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Apr 16 to discuss the leadership renewal at the Labour Movement, which mentioned the scenario where Mr Chan might return to the Government.
“To take the Labour Movement forward, we desire people who have the interests of working people at heart and who can understand the priorities of the Labour Movement in the face of evolving challenges,” she wrote in the letter.
“To this end, should PM require Brother Chan Chun Sing to return to Government in due course, may we request PM to let Brother Ng Chee Meng serve in the Labour Movement. We believe Brother Ng Chee Meng has the desired attributes to lead and connect with the Labour Movement for the next lap.”
Mr Ng had earlier been identified by Lianhe Zaobao as the man who would take over Mr Chan’s position as labour chief.
The Labour Movement also requested for another suitable office holder to serve its cause, particularly one who can communicate with Government agencies to translate the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) “into more tangible training programmes for our working people”.
Ms Liew added it will be “an added bonus” if this office holder can help expand the Labour Movement’s outreach to new groups of working people, including professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).
This was an aspiration Dr Koh shared during a doorstop interview on Monday evening, telling reporters that his appointment is a "good way of linking (NTUC) with what we want to do with the ITMs".
It is a "genuine and concrete way" of making ITMs a reality for Singapore and its workers, he added.
NEW UNION MEN
Before he stepped into politics, Mr Ng, 49, was a career military man, having joined the Singapore Armed Forces in 1986 and held various high-ranking positions culminating in becoming Chief of Defence Force from March 2013 to August 2015, when he stepped down to contest the 2015 General Election.
During his time in the SAF, he was the Chairman of the State Funeral Organising Committee for Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Lieutenant-General Ng also helmed the conceptualisation and execution of the SAF50 campaign to thank past and present servicemen and defence stakeholders.
The minister also held several directorships in public and private organisations such as Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and Jurong Town Corporation.
Joining him at NTUC is Dr Koh, who, like Mr Ng, is a first-time Member of Parliament and office holder. Before politics, he held academic appointments such as clinical lecturer in the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and adjunct assistant professor in the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.
He was also the founding director of the Colorectal Cancer Genomic Health Service and served as a consultant colorectal surgeon in Singapore General Hospital.
The 46-year-old had started his private practice at Capstone Colorectal Surgery Centre in Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre in 2011.