Meeting Superwoman in the flesh.
I attended a Young NTUC award ceremony some time back, and to be honest, I didn't know what the event was about and what to expect.
I didn't even know what Young NTUC is all about or what exactly a unionist does.
In fact, before I left the house, the husband told me that I should do a bit of reading up at www.youngntuc.org.sg so I can match names to faces and not end up embarrassing myself. ("If all else fails, please be sure not to mention that your husband is a civil servant," he warned.)
I also met Mr Lim Swee Say that night! He’d asked me, "So what do you blog about?" and I replied,
"Lifestyle topics, travel and errrrrrr (insert long awkward pause)... other bimbotic stuff like beauty and makeup."
Yes. I actually said bimbotic. * hides underneath blanket *
She's articulate, witty, funny, fluent in Malay, English AND Mandarin and on top of juggling her full-time job as Administrative Manager at CPG Facilities Management Pte Ltd, she is ALSO heavily involved with her responsibilities as a Union Leader with Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU) WHILE taking up a part-time diploma in employment relations. Oh, she was also one of the top students in her cohort.
And did I mention? She's also a mother of 3 :scream:
I had the pleasure of speaking to Superwoman herself to find out more about Young NTUC and what exactly unionists do.
What exactly is Young NTUC about and what does a union leader really do?
"Young NTUC is the youth wing of NTUC (National Trades Union Congress), and it’s the largest youth movement in Singapore. It brings together youths, aged 18 to 35, of similar interests and causes. Youths come together to lead initiatives which they are passionate about. From environmental issues, animal welfare, volunteering to performing arts, we help our members make a difference to themselves and the society.
A union leader works on improving the working conditions of workers in their company and sector. Through a union, workers have a right to impact wages, work hours, benefits, workplace health and safety, job training and other work-related issues."
What role do you play in Young NTUC?
“I’m one of the union leaders with Young BATU, which is the under-35 group of union members under BATU (Building and Timbre Industries Union). I help educate the union members about their rights as workers, and also to fight for higher wages, more benefits and better working conditions for them.
At the same time, we also attend cohesion events and organize activities to spread union work further. It’s important that the workers know who and where they can go to if they need help at work.”
What made you join Young NTUC?
“There was an issue with the bonus payout in our company. Needless to say, the staff were upset and very fed up – they had been looking forward to the bonus. My mentor, Patrick Teo, who was the General Secretary for BATU, stepped up to address and resolve the matter. Seeing him go all out for the workers was truly admirable. It influenced me and I thought to myself: I am passionate about workplace issues. Hence I approached him to explain my rationale, and he welcomed me to join the union.”
Since then, Irdawaty has focused her effort on advocacy of wages as well as getting young workers to understand more about union work and workers’ employment rights. She explained: “I know there are some young workers who do not know their rights. I want to do my best to contribute – to help and educate them on how to go about addressing the possible grievances which they may encounter in their workplace.”
“As a young working adult, I understand the younger generation have the tendency to job-hop. It shows a lack of belonging to the company. Understanding union work can help to reinforce this aspect."
Because of these boys...
Going beyond union work, Irdawaty has also co-organised several events for the young members, such as the recent Survivor! challenge at Sister's Island where without electricity and power sockets, campers had to start their own fire and cook their own food - not unlike being on ‘Survivor!’ the reality TV programme. (To be honest, the first thought that came to my mind was... did they have wifi? Hahaha)
Superwoman Irdawaty how she finds all that time (and energy!!) to do all these AND MORE (I don't even have the time to watch all my TV shows!) and she pointed at several boys (from her young BATU committee) seated at the next table, patiently waiting for her to end our little chat even though it was approaching 10pm on a Friday night.
"I do it for them. These boys make my heart race." She said in a tongue-in-cheek manner, her eyes twinkling.
“Some people think I am a little out of my mind, fitting in all these activities at the same time. But I will definitely find time for union work. I don’t see why I cannot do it. I believe that if I find purpose and fulfilment in what I do, it should just come as second nature. I don’t think it is an extra chore for me.” she affirmed.
“BATU is like an extended family to me. It’s really hard to walk away. Besides, I only just got started; there is still a journey to explore.”
We wrapped up our chat so she could attend to her boys and then go home to her own three boys (aged 8, 7 and 5) and I left the place feeling awfully inspired.
When I was told I’d be meeting union leaders at the event, I was expecting to speak to uncles and maybe some aunties from rank and file. But hey, here instead is a modern day woman who has successfully managed to balance work, family and giving it back to the society all at the same time through her involvement in youth activism (unionists are not paid at all for their union work by the way!)
Simply because of her passion to protect her fellow workers’ interests and rights.
What an inspiration!
You can find out more about Young NTUC here.
This message is part of a Flora Isabelle X Labour Movement series where I hope to share more insights of the Labour Movement's efforts to provide better jobs, better wages and better lives for all workers of Singapore.