June 26, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

The red balloons were replaced by placards emblazoned with angry slogans. Young smiling faces were replaced by older ones, sterner-looking. No cupcakes were given out but tee-shirts were sold as well as hard-to-find books by political dissidents and such like.

It was a sea change in mood, from a carefree picnic in the morning to a carefully orchestrated protest in the evening. Organisers of the alternative May Day rally put the crowd figure at 5,000 to 6,000, more than their first protest in February which they said numbered about 4,000.

A big turnout at the May Day protest
A big turnout at the May Day protest (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

But it seemed less than that, with the crowd thinning as the evening wore on.

From 4pm, speaker after speaker took to the microphone, including an assortment of “lay’’ people as they were described – a single mother of an eight-year old, a stay-at-home mom, a 66 year old retiree, a 35 year old graduate who is a cab driver.

They were there to say no to the 6.9 million population figure, a repeat of February’s theme. Each “lay’’ person had a personal story to tell, stories full of anger and angst. About bringing up children single-handedly, about not being able to find a job despite a degree (the young cab driver by the way served in the army for 10 years before he got out into the private sector and couldn’t find employment), about discrimination against older women who want to rejoin the workforce.

Here is anger: “I challenge the minister to a debate on television about the CPF!’’ said a 66 year old self-employed man upset at CPF rules which do not allow full withdrawal at age 55. His “hati panas already’’, he declared.

Here is angst: “Why are the smiles on the faces of foreigners here bigger than mine? When can I put the smile back on my face?’’ was how a single mother concluded her speech which were peppered with anecdotes about single mothers not being eligible for baby bonuses or a HDB rental flat.

Several times, speakers reiterated that they were not being xenophobic. It was like a mantra. They were just against the G’s policy on the use of foreign workers which were squeezing locals out of a job.

The crowd paid rapt attention, breaking out into shouts and applause. Every time the G was “whacked’’, they cheered. A heartland crowd it was, who lapped up the speeches made in dialects. One grandmother who spoke actually sang a few lines in Teochew, much to the merriment of the crowd. What was missing was a full Malay speech. Mr Nizam Ismail, formerly of the Association of Muslim Professionals, had pulled out at the last minute. As for Tamil, lawyer M Ravi obliged with a speech which few understood but most appreciated going by the sustained applause he received.

Meanwhile, people with placards walked round.

“Singapore needs public transport, not world class transport’’

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(Photo by Lim Weixiang)

“It’s dangerous to be right when the Government is wrong.’’

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(Photo by Lim Weixiang)

“What do you call the natives of this wealthy island? Singapooreans.’’

(Photo by Shawn Danker)
(Photo by Shawn Danker)

There were less polite ones as well.

At another corner, a 20m long white cloth had been laid out for people to pen their feelings about the 6.9 million.

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(Photo by Lim Weixiang)
Close up shot of the petition broadsheet (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Close up shot of the petition broadsheet (Photo by Shawn Danker)

The better-known speakers had more to say about policy.

Financial consultant Leong Sze Hian pointed out what he saw as contradictions in G statistics, especially on employment figures. Why weren’t they broken down further to make clear the number of both employed citizens and PRs? And what about a proper breakdown of the cost of building HDB flats?

Organiser Gilbert Goh, who counsels the unemployed, wants a quota set for employment pass holders, like for S passes and work permits. He maintained that he knew of companies with 100 per cent foreign workers.

Lawyer M Ravi referred to recent warnings to bloggers as an example of civil society being “under threat’’. There is no freedom of speech nor of assembly. There is no parliamentary ombudsman nor a human rights commission. He told the crowd to give the G a “red card’’ at the next election.

Former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, the last speaker, was more explicit. The Population White Paper, he alleged, was a PAP plot to tighten its grip on Singapore by adding new citizens to swell the pro-PAP voting ranks.

He called for the People’s Action Party to be booted out at the next general election, maintaining that the opposition was ready to form the next Government or at least, more ready than the PAP itself was in 1959 when it took power. He rattled off some figures: nine opposition figures who held senior positions in G agencies, seven PhD holders. There were about 25 to 30 people in the opposition ranks, he said, ready to take over – as a coalition Government.

“You can only change policy, in the political way,’’ he said during a press conference later. As for the formation of a coalition government, he wouldn’t be too pessimistic about the willingness of political parties to collaborate he said, responding to a question.

When organiser Mr Goh pledged that the May Day protest would be an annual event, members of the public pressed for more such protests. What about National Day, someone asked? It was the grandmother, a member of Function 8, who replied. She thought it was a good idea.

Looks like Hong Lim Park is coming alive.

The G is probably regretting designating Speakers’ Corner a free speech space.

 

Who were the people who attended the protest? Find out here. For more pictures on the protest, check it out at our Slice section here.

Bertha Henson also reported on the first picnic event, which happened earlier in the day

 by Lim Weixiang and Shawn Danker

Punk boy from the last protest
Punk boy from the last protest (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Singaporeans make their love for food known (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Singaporeans make their love for food known (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Father with his daughter, wearing the shirt that was on sale for the event
Father with his daughter, wearing the shirt that was on sale for the event (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

An alternative application of robin hood
An alternative application of robin hood (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

(Photo by Shawn Danker)
People power was a common motif at Hong Lim Park. And despite what the G would like to say, the people vehemently against the the white paper are still fixated on the 6.9 number (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

100% Singaporean - and proud of it (Photo by Shawn Danker)
100% Singaporean – and proud of it (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

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Masked man and woman with a message (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Roping in the kids
Roping in the kids (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

An aunty proudly holds up her placard for all to see. Who she wants to save is up to anyone's imagination (Photo by Shawn Danker)
An aunty proudly holds up her placard for all to see. Who she wants to save is up to anyone’s imagination (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Making a statement about the employment situation here (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Making a statement about the employment situation here (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Even the punk community has come out in full regalia to add their voices to the cacophany of faces at Hong Lim despite the day's sweltering heat (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Even the punk community has come out in full regalia to add their voices to the cacophany of faces at Hong Lim Park despite the day’s sweltering heat (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

The first speaker takes to the mound and the bullhorn... Before the rally actually starts
The first speaker takes to the mound and the bullhorn… Before the rally actually starts (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

M Ravi in hilfiger. He was one of the first speakers
M Ravi in hilfiger. He was one of the first speakers (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

View from the stage (Photo by Shawn Danker)
View from the stage (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Tan Jee Say was the last to speak
Tan Jee Say was the last to speak (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

This man, Robert Fernandez, caused a commotion and disrupted the speakers mid when when he demanded to be given a minute to speak.
This man, Robert Fernandez, caused a commotion and disrupted the speakers midway through the speeches when he demanded to be given a minute to speak (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Ex AMP director Nizam Ismail, who pulled out as a speaker but still turned up for the event, together with his wife and child.
Former AMP director Nizam Ismail, who pulled out as a speaker but still turned up for the event, together with his wife and child (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Tan Kin Lian was on hand giving out clappers (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Tan Kin Lian was on hand giving out clappers (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

LKY makes his presence felt (Photo by Shawn Danker)
LKY makes his presence felt (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Dr Ang Yong Guan makes an appearance (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Dr Ang Yong Guan makes an appearance (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

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Clothesline of shirts for sale (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Gilbert taking interviews (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Gilbert taking interviews (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Sign NO to 6.9 (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Sign NO to 6.9 (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

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The event ended with a recitation of the Singapore pledge (Photo by Lim Weixiang)

 

Standing on stage displaying the signatures (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Standing on stage displaying the signatures (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Abandoned placards (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Abandoned placards (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Ravi at the press conference: Because everything in Singapore is political (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Ravi at the press conference: Because everything in Singapore is political (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Member of the public posing a question during the press conference (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Member of the public posing a question during the press conference (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Tan Jee Say shakes a well wishing kid's hand (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Tan Jee Say shakes a well wishing kid’s hand (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Member of the public speaks to the press (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Member of the public speaks to the press (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

Gilbert addressing the crowd during the press conference (Photo by Shawn Danker)
Gilbert addressing the crowd during the press conference (Photo by Shawn Danker)

 

These photos were taken at the May Day protest that was held at Hong Lim park, the second event held there after the earlier picnic event. Organisers estimated the event to be attended by between 5,000 – 6000 people. Read what our editor, Bertha Henson had to say about the event, as well as what kinds of people attended.

 

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by Bertha Henson

Cupcakes and taco chips were being given out – gratis. Men and boys from a ukulele group were strumming away. Children were swimming in pools of balls. All in, it was a very Disney morning at Hong Lim Park today, complete with a magic castle. It was a “young people” event, mostly the English-speaking and the educated. A fair number were in red or white tee-shirts bearing the words Stand Up for Singapore, the group behind the event, which concluded at about 1pm.

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Ukelele player at the picnic. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

It was billed as a picnic to show the positive side of being part of a community, an appreciation ceremony so to speak.

The organizers said so unabashedly in the flyers that came with a game card and a red picnic mat: “Today we would like to focus on the possibilities that we can achieve together and hopefully inspire each other by demonstrating that there are many Singaporeans who care deeply for our nation and will go out of their way to bring happiness and abundance to everyone that we can connect with. And hopefully just to encourage you to love each other just that little bit more.”

The group of 14 had sunk money into this project, its third. It wasn’t a sit down and enjoy the nice weather event. The key idea was for total strangers to interact. Hence, games were built around starting conversations with each other and ending with each participant writing down three qualities that they feel would make Singapore a country to be proud of.

Now, does that sound too cuddly to you? Or is that the cynic in me talking?

Standing round the edges of Hong Lim Park, I wondered at the energy and enthusiasm of the young people who were busy making balloon animals and pushing cupcakes on people. So sweet, I thought. Just wait till they are out of school and in the working world, that idealism would surely wear off…

Yet, the organizers themselves are a bunch of 30-somethings in various professions. I recalled what one of them had said to me: “We are not cynical people.” The turn-out, at most 400, was not as large as expected, given that it achieved a higher profile after a minor fracas had erupted over the group’s decision to stage the event at Hong Lim Park, on the same a May Day protest event was being held. Mr Tong Yee pronounced that he was happy enough.

As the morning wore on, white tents were being set up at the other side of the park. Sound systems were being tested.

The picnickers stuck to their corner.

More on that flyer: “And with this day, we hope to start a legacy for future Singaporeans. That we be known as a community of loving and gracious people, who continue to look out for each other and rest with the knowledge that we can trust our community to see us through… It is possible for us to play, to love, to genuinely connect with each other, and still be the great little nation that we are.”

Eeew.

A young man came to my side as I was watching a group break out in song. He introduced himself as Edward. Aged 20, he saw the group’s work on its Facebook page and decided to volunteer to help at the event. Nice-looking with a buff bod, he said: “Isn’t this nice?” He hadn’t come across an event like this, he said, a citizen-initiated event with no other agenda than to do good. I looked at this young man and his honest, open face. May he remain like that, I thought. Always looking out for something positive. And keep that buff bod!

A somewhat older woman passed by and handed me a tissue. “You look like you need one,’’ she said before walking away. A young woman called Eunice pressed a box of cupcakes to me. I declined. I am not a “sweets’’ person. Then she wanted to take a picture with me, this total stranger.

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Balloons with messages of hope. (Photo by Shawn Danker)

A photojournalist who was with me said he felt uncomfortable. All that smiling, happy faces and red balloons. Everyone was like a child, even the old uncle on the ukulele. Some balloons had words scribbled on them: the qualities that those who took part in the games want for Singapore. The usual virtues were listed: kindness, patience, understanding et cetera. One balloon had this: “Less cynical”.

I caught myself smiling.

 

Following this event, Breakfast Network also stayed for the May Day protest. Find out what happened then.

by Bertha Henson

Going by the headline in today’s ST, ‘Buyers in a tizzy over possible EC tweaks’, you can imagine people banging their heads against walls and tearing their hair out. Perhaps, before buyers get into a tizzy, they should look more carefully at what National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Friday about “something is wrong somewhere’’ about the EC scheme.

At the heart of what is not right is a “sense of inequity’’ as he put it.

But it is not clear what is the inequity here. Here’s what he was quoted in Today saying: “The lower income group is getting less subsidies than somebody who is earning $12,000.’’ So is this in absolute dollar terms or as a proportion of income? The grant for EC buyers range from $10,000 to $30,000, while BTO buyers can get up to $60,000 if they earn less than $1,500 per month.

In ST, the “inequity’’ also referred to the profit that EC buyers can make on their units. Sure, in absolute terms, EC flat owners make more, given that ECs are pricier than Build-To-Order flats in the first place. But ST’s own checks showed that four-room flats in Chua Chu Kang, for example, appreciated by 200 per cent over seven years compared to an EC nearby which went up by 90 per cent.

Better to be clear on what is the “inequity’’.

Rather strangely too, people seem to be calculating in terms of what they can make from the flat, even before they buy them.

Is inequity to be measured in terms of profit to be gained after accounting for subsidy? If so, it may be well-nigh impossible to guarantee that every income group gets the same amount of profit – whether in absolute dollar terms, as a proportion of original price of flat or in a fixed ratio to subsidies given.

Is that the reason for the “home ownership’’ policy in the first place – to get a home to sell off at a profit or to have a home to sink your roots in? Also, is it the G’s role to ensure “equity’’ in profits?

Or is inequity to be measured by the size of the handout compared to the income of the buyer? The truth is that people are upset that ECs can be priced at $2million a unit – and yet seem affordable to the supposed “sandwiched’’ class. Clearly, some EC buyers have other kinds of financial resources, from parents for example. A bit of envy here. But that is true for any home buyer. You can get a bigger BTO flat if your parents help out too.

Or is it the price of ECs and its accompanying private property frills that needs to be tamped down? Then those with more resources will not find it worth their while to buy an EC, but move into private property instead. Or is this too much of a dog-in-the-manger approach?

In the conversation about housing, there hasn’t been a peep yet about the notion of housing vouchers. Give every Singaporean who reaches a certain age a lump sum and a crack at public housing. So married couples, parents and child, siblings and singles can combine their vouchers and buy a home. No one need complain then about some group getting more than others.

That is, if we really, really want to be equitable.

by Bertha Henson

If your heart didn’t break at news of the rain tree which felled (literally) a driving instructor over the weekend, you are made of stone. And if you are the mother of the man, your youngest son who was about to get married, your heart will now be in little pieces.

TNP today focused on the grief of the mother – and the rage she felt towards the driver of the car her son was in – his student. Somehow, she blames the hapless woman for her son’s death, ignoring the fact that the student-driver’s escape was a miracle. (The mother thinks the student-driver should have been more alert to her surroundings.) Her anger might well be directed at the heavens, which opened up and cut down the tree. Or even at NParks, which said it checked the tree and found that it was perfectly healthy and well-maintained.

The student-driver was good enough to turn up at the wake, only to be met by hostility. Perhaps, in time the grieving mother will come to terms with her son’s death instead of taking it out on someone who managed to stay alive. Breakfast Network offers its condolences to the mother and the family. As for the woman-driver: stay strong.

by Salima Nadira

People like to gossip. And boy, are they gossiping about Mr Nizam Ismail, who recently resigned from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) over the G’s unhappiness at his politically-charged activities, which it maintains amounts to using the AMP as a platform for race-based politics. Berita Harian (BH) is awash with articles on Nizam’s private life and personal problems. It all began with this article which dug up enough dirt on Mr Nizam’s life to fuel one season of a drama serial on Suria.

The article checked all the boxes: Nizam divorced his first wife because he was messing around with his current second wife. Together, they are known as Awesome Twosome, and have performed (her on vocals and him on keys) at the Esplanade – there are videos on YouTube. But that’s not all. Nizam is also (gasp!) a womanizer, and has been around the block, shacking up with numerous Chinese ladies. One of these dalliances resulted in a child.

Having dropped this bomb, the article moves swiftly on to focus on his credit card debt of over $33,000 and the lawsuit which OCBC has on him. According to his close family and friends, this debt (and others) was an “open secret” amongst his family and close friends. However, many others were surprised at this debt, considering his cushy jobs in big banks like MAS; as Senior Vice President, Chief Compliance for Southeast Asia in Lehman Brothers; and later, Executive Director, Head of Compliance for Southeast Asia of Morgan Stanley.

In response, Nizam said he was disappointed and shocked that BH chose to ask such questions, as they have nothing to do with AMP or RIMA, the group’s research arm. He suggested that BH focus on issues like the retraction of funding from Malay/Muslim organizations, so that a variety of views, including critical ones, may be gathered.

Furthermore, debates rage over whether Mr Nizam can be considered to have been acting in his personal capacity, or whether his position as director of AMP and chairman of RIMA makes him morally obligated to walk within certain boundaries.

Apparently, prior to speaking at Hong Lim Park on Feb 16 and the Workers’ Party event, he had specifically asked the AMP chairman, Azmoon Ahmad, whether there were any issues with him speaking, even sending the chairman a copy of his presentation. He was given the go-ahead. On his blog, he says that “I am disappointed that my activities in these events have now been made an issue by AMP”.

AMP, on its part, has stated that its first principle is independence and non-partisanship, expressing disappointment in Mr Nizam’s actions which, although done in his personal capacity, was acting against these principles.

However, Mr Nizam argues on his blog that the Community Forum (ComFor) he proposed through AMP, which triggered the funding cut threat, “was meant to be an independent platform to discuss community and national issues” and to encourage a diversity of voices, rather than state-sponsored Community Leadership Forum (CLF) which he noted to be “top-down”.

Poor Mr Nizam. He wanted a diversity of voices; it looks like he’s got it. Unfortunately, voices tend to chatter much more when they’re gossiping. People are writing to defend BH for publishing reports on Mr Nizam’s OCBC lawsuit, and about AMP chairman’s emotional breakdown over how this quarrel demonstrates the disunity in the community.

More crucially, some people do not want this diversity of views that he’s trying to encourage. They are saying that as director of AMP he should not be participating in opposition party events and protest rallies, because this means that he’s partisan. And having a diversity of views means the community is not united.

Maybe Mr Nizam was going about things all wrong. Instead of trying to change mindsets and arguing big issues on his blog, he should instead just ride this wave of publicity, write and act in a drama of at least one season, earn big bucks, and retire with his wife on another, more idyllic island. This could very well be the big break for Awesome Twosome all along.

On a more serious note, however, one wonders why the Malay language newspaper chose to wash all that dirty linen in public at this time. Because Mr Nizam is perceived to be “down and out’’? The articles on his personal life and how some people think this reflects on his ability to be a community leader, could well have been written during his term in the AMP.

Such an exposé at this time only serves to fuel cynicism that the media is embarking on a character assassination exercise because a green light of sorts has been given. It smacks somewhat of Palmergate and the Yaw Shin Leong affair. Except that Mr Nizam is not an MP. At least not yet.

by Bertha Henson

Don’t know how many people know this but there are actually two events taking place at Hong Lim Park on May Day. The more well-known one is by the same organisers who held the Population White Paper protest in February. This has been billed variously as a sequel, a move to call for a better Singapore – a labour day “protest’’ – a ground up movement – unlike the prim and proper NTUC May Day rally held indoors for invited guests only.

It will start at 4pm.

There is also a morning event starting at 9am, held by a group of people who call themselves Stand Up For Singapore. These are the people who distributed tokens to bus and taxi drivers who worked during Christmas. They propose a picnic-style event on that same patch of green more known for political events than for parties.

Being named after a national song, it is no wonder that this group has been facing some flak from those who think they are government plants out to take the shine away from the 4pm event. Never mind that this is Stand Up for Singapore organising the event – not some political group.

The scale of the reaction took them quite by surprise, key members of the group told Breakfast Network over the weekend.

The picnic would be their third event. They have always used public holidays to spread their message of getting Singaporeans to be more appreciative of each other. Their first, which caught the eye of the Prime Minister, was on National Day. They fanned out to get people to give up their seats for the elderly and the infirm on public transport. In fact, that was how their moniker Stand Up for Singapore came about. Buoyed by the good response, they proceeded with the Christmas Day event to show appreciation to those who manned the public transport system on holidays. That too garnered great responses.

Then planning began for a third. Mr Tong Yee, a member who is also behind the Thought Collective group of social enterprises, acknowledged that the group was probably naïve not to have anticipated that their event would be misconstrued as having a political agenda. They had no idea that another event was to be staged when they applied for a permit and when they did, they moved the event to the morning.

But what exactly is their message?

Mr Tong Yee said that they wanted to explore the idea of “rest’’ on May Day and incorporate the notion that rest can only be achieved if there is trust that everyone will do his or her part to ensure all is well. They chose to set this in Hong Lim Park, where Speakers’ Corner might convey the idea of “lepak in one corner’’. There was also the long-held notion that the park was only a place for the outpouring of anger and dissatisfaction. The group wanted to change that. Why can’t Hong Lim Park be a place where happy things happen too?

A bit airy-fairy?

The group admits that the idea had somewhat morphed so much that they decided to stick to a picnic theme for clarity. For $5, participants will get a goodie bag and a picnic mat. But the programme, they maintained, will reiterate the theme of expressing appreciation for others and the value of being members of a community. The group is putting up about $14,000 of their own money and have no expectations of recouping it.

Unlike the line-up of speakers for the afternoon event, there will be no “political’’ guests. “We’d rather they stayed away!’’ Mr Tong Yee said good-humouredly.

Another member, Mr Wally Tham, has been hard at work responding to those who slam the group on sites such as Temasek Review Emeritus. Going by the responses he made to detractors, the bespectacled video producer has been the soul of patience, reiterating that the picnic is not only a non-political event, but an attempt at humour even. In any case, “people will interpret anything the way they want’’.

It is tempting to describe the group which has about 12 core members as a bunch of do-gooders.  But that would be derogatory.

Said another member, architect Goh Chin Yen: “We are not cynical people. But we are not foolishly idealistic too.’’

They have an added reason for doing what they do. What the group found out from past events: young people want to be able to express positive feelings, rather than join in the cynicism that seems so prevalent among working adults. Their young volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find adults with faith in the good qualities of Singaporeans – and who were willing to demonstrate it too.

So it seems that the May Day picnic is just that: Getting people to be happy together. The group’s worry now is being able to cater for what they think would be a bigger crowd than the couple of hundred that had anticipated. Seems the group got more attention than they bargained for.

Breakfast Network wishes them well. Have a good picnic!

The need for unions to evolve to include professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) was the key message from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean as he addressed 1,600 unionists at last night’s May Day dinner.

Today, about half the resident workforce are PMETs, with the proportion expected to increase to two thirds by 2030. In comparison, three quarters of union members today are non-PMETs, which shows a significant difference in union representation between the two groups.

NTUC seems intent on filling in this gap, and is pushing for an amendment to the Employment Act to allow rank-and-file unions to represent PMETs, something that current laws do not allow.

The current legislation the bars rank-and-file unions from representing PMETs exists because of past concerns about conflicts of interest. However, with a large and growing services and finance sector, many professionals and executives have no or little say in wage or employment decisions anyway. Some (like sales staff and designers) have in effect become rank-and-file workers, but are stripped of union cover.

Existing legislation only allow those unions to represent PMETs in cases of retrenchment, breach of contract, victimisation and unfair dismissal. Few PMET-specific unions have been formed.

As the mainstay of Singapore’s future workforce, PMETs’ representation needs have already begin to mirror that of rank-and-file workers.  Unfair treatment, wages, benefits and opportunities at work may go unaddressed without union representation, making working in Singapore less attractive.

This call for change falls against a backdrop of higher white-collar layoffs in 2012 (ST, Layoffs up 10% with restructuring, more white-collar workers hit, Apr 26). The Business Times (Restructuring leads to higher incidence of layoffs in 2012: MOM, Apr 26), pinpointed the financial services sector as the leader for layoffs in terms of raw numbers as banks tightened up their hiring.

The professional services and wholesale and retail trade sectors also led redundancies for services, compared to fewer layoffs for manufacturing and construction.

Mr Patrick Tay, Director for NTUC’s Legal Services Department and PME Unit, expects the amended Employment Act to pass its first and second parliamentary readings “by the last quarter of this year”.