18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Making it Work: Senior Staff Nurse and Unionist

Story and Photos by Jonathan Tan, LabourBeat

On first impression, Fiona Leong’s big smile and chirpy note in her voice show a warm and bubbly personality. Her easy manner makes her a real pleasure to talk to and her varied experiences makes one wonder where she finds the time to do so much. 

When she’s not working, the 32-year-old Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) senior staff nurse is either busy taking up a new course or travelling. 

“I enjoy learning new things and taking up courses. I’m currently picking up a Floristry course with my SkillsFuture Credits. Prior to this, I also learnt sewing. I find it very exciting to always learn new things because doing the same thing over and over can get mundane. Life is often unpredictable and these interesting courses can help me through life as well.

“I also enjoy travelling a lot, and I recently checked another item off my bucket list when I got my diving certificate in Malaysia,” she said.

Facing Challenges

One should trust Fiona to know a thing or two about life’s unpredictability. She was just 10 years old when she was diagnosed with Lupus, a disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack tissues and organs. This meant that unlike her peers, who got to go to school and play with friends after, much of Fiona’s growing up years were spent grappling with pain, doctor’s appointments and being admitted to hospital.

With the disease under control in her late teens, Fiona was able to lead a normal life. The only difference was that she was not going to compromise on living her life to the fullest and with purpose.

She lists being able to witness how cutting-edge developments in Ophthalmology has made a difference in the lives of patients and being able to play an active role in their treatment as a few of the most satisfying aspects of her job as a nurse.

Serving Others

In additional to her personal pursuits, Fiona also plays an active role in the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU). She is currently serving her first term as branch chairperson for SNEC. She is also a nominated youth representative in the Young NTUC Committee. 

Describing her initial impressions of union work, Fiona said: “When I was first asked to join the branch’s executive committee, I didn’t mind because I saw it as a way of giving back and serving others. As the middle person between members and our managers, I had to be very mindful of how I carried myself. But I also got to learn what the Labour Movement is doing and how it is partnering the Government to improve the lives of Singaporeans. 

“It was a steep learning curve compared to my previous voluntary work with the People’s Association Youth Executive Committee. Fortunately, I had a mentor in Audrey Kon, who would help me with any queries I had. 

Chief among Fiona’s causes as a unionist is the way in which mistakes in the workplace are addressed. 

“Nobody is error-free and I feel that mistakes can help people grow. This is where finding the root cause of issues, addressing that and motivating staff in the right direction are very important instead of focusing on the blame,” she said.

Union work has also played a part in helping her mature as a human being and a professional. 

She brings her experience to situations such as labour-management relations and weighing the different perspectives of stakeholders. 

“It is very important that we also share what we do in the union with our managers and supervisors. Being more open and transparent help build trust… One cannot be too quick to judge or stereotype base on what you hear because you may not understand the context. The main thing is to keep an open mind and do your best,” she added.