18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Building Confidence through Experience

Story by Avelyn Ng, LabourBeat

How did United Workers of Petroleum Industry (UWPI) Vice-President Seah Keng Tia, who dreaded public speaking, end up inspiring audiences at several national and international events?

The 33-year-old’s journey of self-discovery started when he joined Young NTUC as a nominated youth representative of UWPI in 2009.

“Young NTUC creates lots of opportunities for young union leaders to grow. My greatest fear back then was giving speeches but now, it has become one of my favourite activities as I sense myself growing in confidence whenever I communicate ideas or seek clarification successfully,” said Keng Tia.

Throughout the years, Keng Tia represented Young NTUC to share his union experiences at several platforms such as ITUC World Congress in Germany, ITUC-AP Regional Congress in India and ILO Asia Pacific Convention in Bali.

He also progressed to become the vice-chairperson of the Industrial sector from 2012 to 2013, and was subsequently selected as the chairperson in Young NTUC Committee for two terms in 2014 to 2017.


Mobilising Youths

The communication skills Keng Tia have come in handy at Vopak Terminals Singapore Pte Ltd, where he works as a customer service coordinator.

He explained: “It requires you to be patient and have a listening ear to know the customers’ needs. At the same time, I have to consult my operations colleagues on what needs to be done or improved.”

Paying it forward, Keng Tia has been generous in giving advice to new union leaders and has been actively looking out for opportunities to engage youths.

Notably, the Young NTUC SG50 Amazing Race on 3 October 2015 was born under his leadership. The organising committee, comprising nine young union leaders, held fortnightly meetings over six months to plan for the event. 

Some 300 youth participants from 14 unions took part in the race, which was held to commemorate Young NTUC’s 10th anniversary and the nation’s 50th birthday.

In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded the Working People’s Advocate at the May Day Awards recently on 5 May 2018. 

His advice to other young union leaders: “Never be boxed up in your perspective, be open to hear before you judge. We talk about tripartism – this means knowing the needs and challenges of all parties and finding a win-win-win solution.”


Empowered to Lead

Keng Tia’s first project at UWPI in 2010 was the large-scale night kite-flying event jointly organised by 12 other unions’ youth chapters for 1,000 participants. 

“I remember volunteering to plan a kite-colouring competition as a pre-event activity. That was where I learned to tap on big events to organise engagements and save cost.

“While I was shadowing my senior, Brother Aswadi (currently assistant general secretary of UWPI), I also learned the art of problem-solving. I am glad the committee adopted my proposal back then to sell tickets in bundles to encourage more to participate. We received overwhelming response from the members who rallied their family to join,” shared Keng Tia.

The event, which made the Guinness World Records for the most number of LED kits flown at night, remains the largest ground-up joint-union project till date.

“My time in UWPI and Young NTUC as a youth leader is limited now. I am working on my succession planning. I want someone to be better and can contribute in a greater capacity than me. You can be good in what you are doing, but if you can guide someone to be better than you, then you are truly successful.”