18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Building Blocks of Communities

Contributed by Choo Yan Ping

Chancing Upon a Camp

Three years ago, Brother Leon Chua Shu Wei spontaneously signed up for an event, a two-day-one-night survivor camp held at Sisters’ Island, thinking he would be having two days of fun and adventure. Little did he know that he was stepping into a small world of unionists and that he would soon be experiencing a change in his life.

Organised by youth chapters in the industrial sectors, the camp comprised mostly of NTUC members from all walks of life. It challenged each participant to be a survivor and organised activities that helped its participants to pick up basic survival skills. Everyone had a taste of what life was like living without electricity, starting a campfire with nothing but broken twigs and cooking dinner with that self-started campfire. Despite the rustic environment, the camp participants overcame obstacles. Like-minded friends were found and stronger bonds were forged.

Through interactions with his newfound friends, Leon’s eyes were opened and his ears became more attentive to the trade union scene in Singapore. He was introduced to what the unions were doing to protect the interests of workers. He expressed his interest in joining the union and within a matter of days, Leon became a member of the HDB Staff Union (HDBSU). Today he is a Young NTUC committee representative for HDBSU.

The Kampong Spirit

Coincidentally, the day job of the 33-year-old executive encompasses preserving the idea of the kampong spirit in Singapore’s heartlands—the HDB flats. He is part of the community relations team in HDB who are driven to keep the kampong spirit alive in a new neighbourhood. The team will organise a welcome party for residents of new HDB flats. The idea behind these activities is to build communities and strengthen the cohesiveness of new neighbours.

Being a part of the union is like being in the heartlands, where the heart longs to be. As a union official, Leon also works towards building a sense of home and belonging amongst colleagues working in HDB.

What intrigued Leon the most about being in the union is the training. “The training given to union officials is what motivates me to stay on in the union. We get to learn all about trade unions in Singapore and the role they play in representing workers. It has given me a clearer perspective of the employer-employee relationship in the workplace.”

Leon gained a better understanding of the issues faced by workers in the private sector. Although he feels the issues faced by workers in the public sector are different from that faced by those in the private sector, stories can be shared. He believes that his role as a union official in HDBSU is to help raise the awareness of workplace issues amongst his colleagues who can also share the information with their loved ones. The knowledge of good employment practices across industries can thus be passed on throughout the nation. He realised this: “We are vulnerable as a nation. It is important for us to protect our nation’s interests.”

A Champion of Social Justice

On national interests, Leon shares that he is inspired by capable leaders, one of whom is the late Nelson Mandela, a national leader who despite facing challenges and even prison, remained resilient in his goal towards a united South Africa, free from racial differences.

The qualities of Nelson Mandela have inspired Leon to continue his passion in serving communities and doing good for the nation. He has chalked up a fulfilling array of experiences of which he shared, “Life’s hard. Let’s not make it harder.”