18.35 Activism - Young Union Leaders
Thinking like a Union Leader

When you have a mission, being called names behind your back is just sticks-and-stones. This attitude has helped Douglas Heng, 33, stay on course as a union leader at ExxonMobil Singapore Employees’ Union (EMSEU).

The Process Technician at ExxonMobil Asia Pacific Pte Ltd explains, “I try to strike a balance between being a worker and a unionist. While some members recognise I have helped them, there will be others who know me as the guai lan kai (a Hokkien phrase for annoying or irritating person). To be honest, I have no issue with the label.

Before I joined the union, I was just a worker. After joining the union in 2011, I feel more like a role model. With this mindset, I’ve made a concerted effort to think through my actions before making any move. I might have ruffled some feathers along the way. But since this is the journey I have chosen, I will continue on it. You only live once, so savour the experience.”

Gaining the understanding of young workers
“As a house union, most of EMSEU activities are held jointly with the company. Hence, EMSEU and Young EMSEU work closely to plan events for our members. We also have shift workers so I need to do my best to catch up with the young ones during break-times or when I am working late.

From experience, I have learnt not to be hard in my approach to those who have not joined the union. To illustrate the importance of union, I remind them that going to work every day can be a luxury for other people. You can’t take everything for granted because there is the possibility of losing your job at any moment. I ask them to think about this and further explain how the union can help in such scenarios.”

Single-minded goal, diverse approaches
“During the Collective Agreement negotiations, I could see the team’s commitment to fight for our members. Previously, we were not on the same page as we entered the negotiations without any idea of each other’s rationale.

This experience has made us supportive of each other. We now understand that whatever our personal agendas, we have to put it aside and fight for the members.”

Genuine appreciation of Young NTUC
“I have to admit I didn’t think much of Young NTUC when I was first introduced to it. During a monthly meeting, youth leaders raised some concerns faced by young working adults; career progression, transport, housing and medical expenses. Suggestions were collated and I thought that would be the end of it.

To my pleasant surprise, I was wrong. The next moment I learnt Young NTUC had organised a session to address housing concerns. I was taken aback by the efforts Young NTUC had taken to look after young working adults.

It has made me feel better supported in my unionisation efforts among young workers.”