WP Member Quits Union Leadership

Posted by under Breaking News on 12 February 2003

The sacking of an opposition politician Muhammad Ali Aman as a unionist in December last year has been followed by the abrupt resignation of another - Melvin Tan - who is a member of the Workers' Party (WP).

Tan, who was six months into a new term and did not complete it, says he was disappointed and shocked to learn that a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) affiliated union - the United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries (UWEEI) - would dismiss their officials found to be involved in opposition politics.

Aman, Secretary-general of the four-party Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), was expelled as his branch's chairman after refusing to resign from it or give up opposition politics. His membership was also revoked, and he has submitted an appeal to be considered by UWEEI at the next convention.

Virtually all trade unions in Singapore are affiliated to the NTUC, the country's only union umbrella, and it shares a "symbiotic relationship" with the 45-year ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

The UWEEI leadership had defended their action, saying NTUC's close ties with the PAP has benefited Singapore's workers, citing the city-state's economic progress under a good government that has kept unemployment low.

Tan, also a former Executive Secretary of the Think Centre (TC), quitted the union he had served three-and-a-half years in soon after Aman's expulsion. He declined to name it - one of NTUC's 70 affiliated unions - as they have given him opportunities all these years and he is still a member to support the remaining officials he handed the reins over to, most of whom he had inducted into the team.

Unlike Aman who holds a high leadership position in his party that exposed his membership openly, Tan believes his union was not aware of his party membership. Neither did he declare it, seeing nothing in the constitution of either the NTUC or his union that stated he had to do so.

But he resigned because he felt like an outcast after Aman's incident, which made clear the "symbiotic relationship" he knew of but never the extent it is enforced. He did not want to stay on silently as "a matter of principle", and denied his resign was a "protest" or to "close ranks" among the opposition.

In the interview, Tan said political credentials of a union leader should not matter as long as he promotes NTUC's policies, even those aligned with the PAP's. Unions should not pay more attention to political labels than a union leader's ability.

He has always acted in his correct capacity despite having political memberships. In 1999, he was elected branch secretary, and in same year joined the TC. Re-elected as branch chairman in 2002, the same year he joined the WP, he never allowed a conflict of interest to arise.

While Aman continues to fight for reinstatement, Tan chose to resign without much ado. He wishes Aman luck and prefers to move on. He says it is no loss and he has gained more time to focus on his company work. Highlighting his opinions through this interview was enough.

Will he miss his union work? "That's not important. When I offered my services, what mattered was whether I can do a good job and the labour movement benefit from my contributions. If not, I'm out. It's not about me or whether I will miss this."

"All these are for self-gratification," he says.

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