18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Opening Up To New Experiences

Story by Gurmeet Singh, Labourbeat

Wen Sheng works with NTUC Fairprice Co-operative Limited and is in the IT technical support line. The Deputy General Secretary of Food, Drinks and Allied Workers Union and Chairman of NTUC FairPrice Union Branch Committee has been a union leader for 8 years.

Tell us a little bit about what you do at work.

I am leading a team that provides first-level IT technical support to various FairPrice stores and perform other daily IT operational tasks as assigned. I also work with technology vendors to facilitate purchase, repair and maintenance of computers and other IT equipment; as well as undertake other tasks assigned by the assistant director (IT Operations).

How did you get into union work and how has the experience been so far?

The Branch Secretary of NTUC FairPrice Union Branch Committee Yeo Soon Hock approached me one day to have a chat over a cup of coffee at our office canteen. He asked me if I was interested to serve as a union branch committee member for NTUC FairPrice Union Branch. I asked about the level of commitment required as I was very new to the union, not knowing what it does. He told me not to worry too much about the level of commitment but to try it out and learn the ropes along the way.

The experience has been enriching so far as many opportunities for exposure have been given to me. I have a better understanding of how the Labour Movement in Singapore plays its role through dialogue with policymakers. This also introduced me to the concept of Tripartism, which has contributed significantly to the success of Singapore today.

The most rewarding moments in this journey have been the ability to help union members encountering difficulties at work or when they had workplace grievances. The appreciation and trust you get at the end of it is priceless.

Tell us about your involvement with Young NTUC.

I have been involved in Young NTUC since 2012, first as a Committee Member under Service Sector and then elected as the Chairperson of Service Sector in 2017. Over the years, there have been a few memorable experiences through the events and programmes that I have been involved in. Examples include RUN350, Young NTUC Celebrates National Day, U Heart, LIT Xchange and Project Refresh. Each of these has allowed me to interact with different people from all walks of life and at the same time, gather valuable insights.

What is the one thing that motivates you?

That would be the opportunity to learn new things and coming up with creative ideas to improve something. I know this is very broad but it can be applied to many scenarios.

How do you combine your personal life with work and your role as a union leader?

Honestly, it is difficult to strike a balance between personal life, work and the role of a union leader. Just like everyone, I only have 24 hours a day so when I spend more time at work or with the union, my personal life suffers. Nevertheless, family support is very important. I do have a very accommodating wife who helps to manage everything at home when I need to go for union meetings after work or even when there are union activities on weekends.

Is it hard to get youths to take on leadership roles in the union?

The youth today faces different types of challenges at work while the union also faces challenges recruiting youths to serve as union leaders. I always like to illustrate by saying union leaders are the bridge between the union members [employees] and the management as we should understand the ground better. In order not to allow this bridge to collapse, it has to be well supported by the middle management such as the reporting officers, managers and team leaders. Everyone in the organisation plays a part.

What do you think the future will be like for youths here and around the world?

I would say that the youths in Singapore are indeed very fortunate. During the Young NTUC Workplan Seminar, we had the opportunity to visit Manila, Philippines and had a dialogue with SENTRO union leaders and the members from their youth wing known as Alliance of Progressive Labour Youth. From the dialogue, we noticed that they were very focused on industrial bargaining and still believed in strikes. While in Singapore, we recognise that tripartism is important and hence the Government, employers and workers are willing to come together to develop initiatives that will benefit the workers, the business and the economy.

What are the few things in life that make you happy?

It can as simple as knocking off from work on time while I can still see light outside, but most importantly, it is the good relationship with my family and the adequate time spent with them.