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Meeting Melvin Yong - What you need to know in 8 points

5 years ago / ntuc / worklifesg

Spotlighting new Labour MP, Melvin Yong

I met the new Labour MP Melvin Yong for tea the other day and if you are like me (and most people) asking "Who's this guy?", here's what you need to know in eight points:

1) Background Check

The 43-year-old served in the police force for 20 years before retiring as Assistant Commissioner of Police and joining the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) last year as Director of Industrial Relations.

2) From Blue to White

He's the first police officer to directly trade his blue uniform for the ruling party's white outfit since Singapore's independence. (Though he is usually in his polo-t and jeans as he's often out in the field interacting with the workers - he had worn a shirt specially for me the tea session :ok_woman:)

*Former police officers such as Desmond Choo, Heng Swee Keat, Heng Chee How and Patrick Tay who are now in politics had moved to various positions in the public or private sectors before entering politics.

Melvin has also just made his maiden parliamentary speech this week on tripartism and its future in Singapore.

3) Different, different but same

I asked Melvin how has his 20 years in the police force affected his views and his work at NTUC so far and as it turns out, working in the forces and in the labour movement/ politics ain't so different after all.

In the police force, laws are enforced and lawbreakers are arrested. But the police has to work closely with the community to raise crime prevention awareness and to strengthen community bonding to keep our neighborhoods safe - which is also necessary in the labour movement.

In cases of unfair treatment of workers, errant employers have to be taken to task according to the law. But in most instances, the LM works quietly behind the scenes together with the tripartite partners to address workers' issues and concerns. His years in the police force have trained him to be resourceful and to work with different partners in solving problems, and this has been useful in his union work.

4) So what exactly is Tripartism?

Tripartism in Singapore refers to the collaboration among unions, employers and the Government. They discuss wide-ranging issues that affect the livelihoods and lives of all the working people in Singapore, from wages, training, job re-creation and also about fair and progressive employment practices.

The National Wage Council (NWC) is a tripartite body comprises representatives from the employers, the trade unions and the Government. It's an example of how tripartism works. The NWC meets every year to deliberate on wage matters and issues guidelines for wage adjustments. Based on the NWC's recommendation on wage adjustment, you then have a benchmark to start negotiating with your boss for that increment!

5) Tripartism is not serendipity

Nope, nothing romantic like that. Rather, it is an "artificial construct".

This relationship between the three different parties with different sets of interests requires constant work and rework. In his words, “If we agree that tripartism is an artificial construct, then we must always make deliberate effort to ensure it flourishes.”

6) Then why is this tripartism so important for him to dedicate his maiden speech to it?

To understand why tripartism is important, we need to first imagine how Singapore would be like without tripartism. The government would design policies based on empirical data without input from employers and workers. Employers would focus on reducing costs and maximising profits, often at the expense of the workers. Unions would fight for short-term benefits for the workers, without much thought on the business climate.

Basically, the result would likely be a lose-lose-and-lose for all parties.

Melvin said in his speech, “Our dynamic brand of tripartism has been tested and put into action over the past decades, and more recently, during the 2009 global economic downturn. Then, while many countries were cutting jobs to save costs, the tripartite partners in Singapore had a different approach. Together, we cut costs to save jobs. Some of the major initiatives rolled out included the Jobs Credit Scheme, Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR) and the Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower. The concerted efforts by the tripartite partners enabled Singapore to upturn the downturn in a swift manner. We succeeded because we were willing to bite the bullet together.”

7) Sectoral Tripatism

Sectoral tripartism is tripartism at the industry level. Melvin believes strongly that a one-size-fits-all approach at the national level cannot fully address the issues faced by the respective industries.

8) Protecting our bus drivers’ welfare under the new Government contracting model

To better understand sectoral tripartism, Melvin brought up this example.

Starting from May 2016, Singapore will adopt a new contracting model where the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will own all bus infrastructure such as depots and other operating assets, but let private bus operators bid for the right to operate these services.

It's welcomed news for commuters as they can look forward to better service levels. But what about the workers? The ones most affected by the transition to this new bus contracting model are the current employees with the incumbent bus operators.



The National Transport Workers Union (NTWU) has played an instrumental role in safeguarding the workers’ welfare. It is one of the three partners in the Public Transport Tripartite Committee (PTTC), alongside LTA and Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The first of the contracts has been awarded to Tower Transit and the tripartite collaboration has borne good fruit, with the workers well taken care of. NTWU had spent time understanding the needs of the affected workers and the PTTC worked out three key assurances for the workers:

a) All affected employees must be offered a job by the incoming operator;
b) Affected employees must be offered employment terms which are not worse-off than what they have been enjoying before transition; and
c) Affected employees can choose to join the new operator or be redeployed by their current employer, where feasible.

These guidelines were, in fact, incorporated into LTA’s tender documents, and will also be included into LTA’s subsequent contract with the Operator.

Over tea that afternoon, Melvin also warned of the looming downturn.

“This year, the slowing of the economy and tightening of the labour market are major concerns for the Labour Movement. In the first quarter of 2016, unionised companies may see retrenchment affecting some 234 workers. The Labour Movement will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to ensure that our workers are taken care of and not left behind.”

I guess the question to ask is whether workers be better or worse off if without tripartism.

It’s anybody’s guess, but I say, let’s not take any chances with our livelihood.