Desmond Choo: Tripartism Remains Important in Building Compact with Workers

The NTUC assistant secretary-general shares how NTUC has evolved to serve workers and its current focus on retirement adequacy and unemployment support.
By Nicolette Yeo 09 Jan 2023

Tripartism continues to play a significant role in building the Singapore compact with workers, said NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo.

Mr Choo spoke on the second day of the Singapore Perspectives 2023: Work Conference on 9 January 2022 at the online panel discussion on the Changing Role of Unions.

The three-day conference, organised by the Institute of Policy Studies, examines the impact of the changes in the global labour landscape on Singapore’s workforce and the implications for key stakeholders, including workers, employers and unions.

He shared: “Tripartism has a big role to play in building a compact, in helping workers over the last six decades.

“It was this NTUC compact with the workers of Singapore and with businesses that has helped facilitate Singapore’s economic growth and reinforce the cornerstone of tripartism as a nation-building construct.”

Mr Choo pointed out that as the country has no wish to return to the industrial unrest of the past, NTUC will continue to focus on protecting workers against workplace unfairness.

He cited recent examples of how NTUC and three unions stepped in to stop unfair retrenchment practices by aircraft maintenance firm Eagle Services Asia and how another union went ahead to unionise local F&B firm Twelve Cupcakes to assist migrant workers who were unfairly paid.

NTUC Evolves to Better Serve Workers 

Mr Choo also elaborated on how NTUC has been evolving to serve the changing needs and aspirations of the Singapore workforce, including lower-wage workers, freelancers and the self-employed, older workers, younger workers, and PMEs. 

He added that NTUC has also focused on helping workers through different life transitions and improving the training ecosystem for workers and businesses. In addition, NTUC social enterprises have been at the forefront of moderating the cost of living.

In 2022, NTUC made a conscious and deliberate effort to renew its compact with workers across all life stages to understand their concerns, priorities and aspirations through the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations.

This year-long public exercise seeks to engage 20,000 individuals of different ages, collars, and sectors through platforms such as dialogues, focus group discussions and surveys.

NTUC will share its findings and recommendations by the middle of this year.

Retirement Adequacy and Unemployment Support

Mr Choo shared that NTUC’s two current focus areas are retirement adequacy and unemployment support.

With one in four Singaporeans reaching 65 and above by 2030, he stressed that there is a stronger impetus to advocate better support for retirement adequacy.

He said: “There are very significant challenges, and we want to make sure that our people are ready for retirement adequacy.

“In fact, through our engagements, it has always been something that even our younger workers are concerned about.”

On unemployment support, he said that with more unemployment, anxiety and uncertainty due to shorter business cycles, NTUC wants to ensure that workers have a good safety net to fall back on.

Mr Choo also reiterated the reasons behind NTUC’s efforts to strengthen the workers’ compact.

He explained: “The rapidly changing workforce and dynamics require tripartite partners to evolve our thinking and services to stay relevant.

“Structural changes such as the green transition, tech-driven inequities, and changing aspirations from our citizenry can deeply fracture Singapore’s social compact.

“I think it will first require our ever-deeper understanding of workforce issues to apply ourselves to being on the ground.

“NTUC’s role, in fact, within the national construct of tripartism is perhaps even more critical than ever, and we are a lot more cognizant of the fact that we need to play an even bigger role to preserve and build Singapore’s social compact together with our tripartite partners.”

Find out more about the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations at