The past month has seen quite some news coverage on volunteering, what with the President’s Volunteerism Philanthropy Awards (PVPA), and also with the announcement of civil servants getting a day of leave to volunteer in a charity.
But what about union leaders?
Ordinary working folks who step up and volunteer their time to speak up for and to help fellow workers? People like Noor Irdawaty and also people like Mr Yeo Soon Hock mentioned in blogger Flora’s story of ‘Meeting the Tans’.
Did you read that story? No? Oh, go read it already!
Kindda makes you appreciate life, and makes you wanna go be a civil servant to have that one day to volunteer in charity! Anyway, we decided to reach out to the union leader mentioned in the blogpost. He who had gone out of his way to help the Tans when tragedy struck and Mrs Tan’s not the same healthy and happy woman/worker/wife/mother that she was.
Meeting Mr Yeo Soon Hock,
A Different Type of Volunteer
Writer: What is your day job? And what about your role in the union?
Mr Yeo: My day job is a Senior Manager in the Purchasing and Merchandising Department with NTUC Fairprice. I am also a member and union leader of the Food, Drinks & Allied Workers Union (FDAWU).
Writer: How long have you been helping out at the union?
Mr Yeo: I had joined Fairprice as a storekeeper 34 years ago, and I had also joined FDAWU as a member back then, way back in 1981. Over time, I saw how the other union leaders reached out to help fellow colleagues and I was inspired to do the same, to help people. So nine years later, in 1991, I stepped up and threw my name into the elections and I’ve not looked back since.
Writer: How did you know what to do as worker activist, as a union leader?
Mr Yeo: Well, I didn’t. I watched how the others did it, I spoke with a lot of people, leaders and also workers alike, and I learnt as I went along. I also attended Industrial Relations courses and upgraded myself to ensure that I could do my best to make a difference in improving others’ lives.
I guess I just knew that I wanted to serve, to help people. And that made all the difference.
Like in Mrs Tan’s case, we just made ourselves available the family, and looked out for where they might need help with, and we tried our best to help. We weren’t able to do a lot, but we did what we could. Mrs Tan had been with NTUC Fairprice for a long time. I remember she was a full-time cashier at one of the branches. Very good staff, and quite active too. It’s just so sad to see something like that happened.
Writer: Yes, we read that story and it’s just so heartbreaking to read. We hope Mr Tan stays strong. Were there any cases that you remember where the union helped out too?
Mr Yeo: Yes, there have been all sorts of cases, big and small, throughout the years I’ve served.
There was another case about two years back. Mr Koh was a Retail Assistant at one of our Fairprice supermarket branches. He had always cycled to and fro work, and one evening at around 7pm, he was cycling back home after work like he always did. But he met with an accident that left him lying in bed in a coma. He still hasn’t recovered.
All union members are automatically enrolled into this group insurance plan called GIFT, and the payout has helped Mr Koh’s family. He has two kids at home.
What happened was, of course, unfortunate and we don’t miss it on anyone. But at least there’s some financial relief from GIFT, which can be a very important thing, especially to workers who may not earn much and who may not have taken up insurance on their own.
Writer: So all union members, no matter which union they belong to, are entitled to coverage under GIFT?
Mr Yeo: Yes, and the good news is they have increased the payout from this year too. One interesting thing about GIFT is how the payouts are actually higher for deaths if it’s outside of working hours.
And it’s the same for Total Permanent Disability; payout is also higher if it happens outside of working hours.
Writer: Oh, that’s interesting! Why is this so?
Mr Yeo: Many members have asked me about this too. You see, if there is a mishap during working hours, workers are typically covered under Workplace Injury Compensation, but what if something happens to the workers outside of working hours?
Many of our lower-wage colleagues may not have their own insurance plans, so GIFT aims to help them where they need protection the most.
Writer: Ahhh, that’s quite a good thing!
Mr Yeo: I always tell new employees how important it is for them to join the union. Not just for times like these, but also for the fun activities like movies and trips abroad that we organise; and meaningful activities like volunteer work.
Writer: FDAWU organises social activities too?
Mr Yeo: Yes, we have trips, fun and also sports activities for members and even their family members. Other than that, we also group people together to do good, like volunteering at the Tan Tock Seng Hospice. It’s good for bonding, and it also helps us appreciate what we have better. And of course, it’s always a good thing if we can spread some joy and happiness to those who need it.
Writer: Does being a union leader take up a lot of your time?
Mr Yeo: Time is what we make of it. Of course, it will take away some of our personal time, but it’s all for a good cause. And this is really a different type of volunteerism. We wish that more people will step up and volunteer to be union leaders.
Writer: Any parting words for our readers?
Mr Yeo: Since some years ago, I have been on the lookout for suitable candidates to suss them out to volunteer. Some of us are guiding and mentoring our younger colleagues. We’d like to see good people stepping up to be the voice of the workers, to protect their workplace rights and to improve their lives. I’m not just talking about NTUC Fairprice, you know.
No matter where you’re working at, do consider rising to the occasion to become a union leader at your own workplace.