7 (more) things you should know about Lim Swee Say…

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In just under a week, Minister Lim Swee Say will take his leave from the NTUC and head for the Manpower Ministry on 4 May 2015.

Here’s what he shared during an interview with local media.


1.) He has vast experience 

Before entering the labour movement and politics, Lim started as an engineer with the Singapore Armed Forces.

Then he joined the National Computer Board (now known as the Infocomm Development Authority) in 1986 before heading to the Economic Development Board in 1991. He was also the first director of the Singapore Software Projects Office (SPO) in Suzhou.

He joined the NTUC in  1996 before a four year stint with the Ministry of Environment in 2000. In 2005, he returned to the labour movement as Deputy Secretary-General and in 2007, he was elected as the Secretary-General of the NTUC.



2.) He’s not one who blows his own trumpet

Throughout the entire interview with the media, Lim emphasised that it was never about him and what he did during his time in NTUC. He always used the word “We”.

He stressed on the collective effort of the labour movement in its push for various of its causes such as re-employment which came from a learning journey with unionists to Japan.


skills training course

3.) Jobs and Skills must go together

During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, as Executive Secretary of two manufacturing sector unions, Li, was concerned about retrenched workers who were still classified as unskilled workers after working for more than 20 years.

As most of the training were not portable then, workers had to start from the bottom when they move to the next company. Hence the labour movement pushed for skills certification and absentee payroll under the Skills Redevelopment Programme (SRP).

When jobs were not upgraded fast enough at the time, the labour movement introduced the Jobs Re-creation Programme (JRP).

There was a subsequent need to match the two programmes (better jobs to better workers) which saw the e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) come into being.



4.) Catch-phrases and Quotes

He is famous for catch-phrases such as “Cheaper, Better, Faster”, “Upturn the Downturn”. He says that the catch-phrases are a result of his own limitation. He often puts himself in the position of a worker to explain difficult complexities.  “I do this not because it is fun. I do it so its easier to understand,” says Lim.


Chan Chun Sing

5.) He says good things of Chan Chun Sing

Lim mentioned 3 criteria which the next Secretary-General of NTUC should possess and he says that Minister Chan Chun Sing fits the bill. He adds that he is happy, knowing that his successor is the right person to lead the labour movement into the next phase of growth.

He said that Chan is not in his office most of the time as he is walking the ground and listening to them.

Lim says that time will tell and he is looking forward to the changes that Chan will bring to the labour movement.



6.) Foreign unions are envious of NTUC

Whenever he leads a delegation to the annual International Labour Conference (ILC), his foreign counterparts often compliment Singapore’s unions and tripartite framework. At every ILC meeting, foreign unions usually update that the situation in their country is far from perfect and they tell of how they envy the situation in Singapore.



7.) Skills upgrading as the way to go

Even as he leaves the NTUC, Lim still pushes for the upgrading of skills.

Looking ahead, he says that there is a need to move fast to enhance workers’ skills and create new jobs so that workers can remain employable and the economy can remain competitive.

In fact, he said that we risk becoming an “ordinary economy with an ordinary workforce”, if Singapore does not ramp up its skills upgrading.

As he goes to MOM next week, look out! I’m sure he’ll continue the push for more of such skills and jobs upgrading to better improve the lives of workers and the competitiveness of companies.


lim swee say

8.) Tripartism: Something to be proud of

He said it himself, foreign unions envy the tripartite framework which Singapore adopts. There will even be a International Forum on Tripartism to be held later this year where foreign delegates can learn and share their understanding of Tripartism.

He said also that when he takes over the Manpower Ministry, he will turn MOM programmes into Tripartite programmes. This, he said will help make everyone a part of the solution.


Even Minister Chan Chun Sing posted a photo of the NTUC Central Committee with Lim and said: “Swee Say’s last meeting with NTUC Central Committee. While the team will miss his leadership, we are also glad that we will continue to have him as our tripartite partner in MOM.

His parting shot? He will ‘tripartise’ everything…”

Hmm…did we just get another new catch-phrase from Minister Lim Swee Say?





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One thought on “7 (more) things you should know about Lim Swee Say…

  1. And I would like to add that I have always known him to be a very decent, kind-hearted human being who cares about others. This is also an invaluable asset in any political leader, and I think we have been most fortunate to have him helming NTUC for such a long time. He will leave his benevolent mark wherever he goes.

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