The two hats of Koh Poh Koon; not easy to wear

To understand the dual roles of the doc, you have to understand the context of trade unions.

You see, it has often been misunderstood that trade unions, government and businessmen ought to be at eternal enmity with each other. But this had proven wrong, and trade unions all over the world are losing relevance because of this.

Unions having a foothold in the government will help them keep a hold on national policies. And it is through national policies that we’ve managed to achieve full employment, raising wages, skils upgrading and even to anticipate future jobs and prepare workers from today.

Around the world, most labour organisations and trade unions cannot progress beyond basic rights. Trade unions are almost always associated with protests, strikes and walk-outs. These are good and are the most basic obligations of trade unions, but it cannot be the only reason for their existence.

Micro level negotiation is important, and we won’t downplay the importance of it. However, if a nation wants to make shift and changes on a seismic level, it has to go further. It needs its partners and networks.

This is where the work of trade unions becomes more complex.

This is where Koh Poh Koon’s work begins.

The 46 year old colorectal surgeon will be an additional interface between the Labour Movement and Government agencies. As a member of the professional fraternity, he will also provide an invaluable link to the various professional associations that the NTUC needs.

In fact, he may be the very first medical doctor on the ranks of the labour movement.

This new pair of surgically trained hands will be instrumental in translating the Industry Transformation Maps into tangible training programmes for working people. The corporate environment we live in is becoming increasingly unpredictable. Technologies have always destroyed jobs but these cycle have become shorter and more unpredictable.

It will be Koh’s job to take training onto a larger breadth and scale.

His appointment as Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Trade and Industry is instrumental in his work at the labour movement. By wearing both economic and labour hats, he is in a position to understand the intricacies of both.

However, this may prove to be more difficult than it looks. On one hand, business people are interested only in cold, icy numbers. That is the language they speak. Working people’s rights are difficult for them to understand; work-life balance for example. Why would you want work-life balance if you’re out here to make money?

The doc will need to balance these interests, seek out common denominators and reconcile the the needs of both organizations.

Not an easy task it seems…

Singapore has been criticised by the unenlightened for this “one man wear two hats” kind of arrangement, but we have proven it to work. In fact, throughout the world, I dare say there is no trade union movement that has true tripartite relations as robust as the type we have.

The result? Simply better jobs, better pay and through training, assurance of jobs in the future.


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