Politically Incorrect: Patrick Tay — Mr S’porean Core who’s always pushing the Govt to support, yes, the S’porean Core


The door-to-door campaign visits of 2020 were unexpectedly helpful for MP Patrick Tay’s (Pioneer) ongoing advocacy for workers’ rights.

“I had, in the back of my mind, the idea of providing a one-stop legal clinic to residents,” remembers Mr Tay of those nine long days on the campaign trail. “For if they need help legally.”

“Because most of them are PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians). They may need help for many reasons.”

And some of these PMETs, it turns out, are lawyers glad to share their expertise (and their free time!) with fellow Pioneer residents.

“When I did the house visits, I met three lawyers who live in my area — one of them’s a law lecturer. NUS,” Mr Tay relates.

“So I asked them ‘If I set up a legal clinic, will you come volunteer?’ And they said ‘Yeah. Sure. I’m happy to help in whatever I can.”

That was a turning point.

The very first thing Tay launched, after winning the elections, was Legal, Employment and Employability @ Pioneer (LEaP). At this monthly legal clinic — initially staffed with those three lawyers from the SMC, two law students and two employment professionals — residents get free legal advice which is particularly focused towards the needs of PMETs.

In fact, October 2022 marks exactly two years since LEaP first opened its doors at The Frontier Community Club.

Full houses are an everytime fact, and so Mr Tay’s volunteer team encourages.    

A fulfilling step forward for Tay, who is also the Assistant Secretary-General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) as well as the Director of its Legal Services Department as labour issues are close to his heart.

The “Trade Union” part of “NTUC”

“I think in my DNA is this constant pursuit of justice and fairness,” he responds when Petir.sg asks him just why he cares so much about workers’ rights.

“I noticed this from my secondary school NPCC [National Police Cadet Corps] days and my choice of course in uni; I did Law,” Tay continues. “My first job was six years with the Police.

“That’s a constant, common thread.”

“And therefore in the labour movement, my speeches are always about fairness to the workers. Looking after their interests and welfare. Levelling the playing field. Making sure they are treated fairly and not discriminated against. The whole works.”

Tay’s brand of advocacy means strengthening the Singaporean Core in our workforce “so that our Singapore PMETs are not left high and dry”.

A brief digression: He has been a really big proponent of the Singaporean Core. In fact, throughout this interview and his speeches in Parliament, the two words seem to be on the tip of his tongue. Perhaps it’s such a big part of his advocacy DNA that it feels natural to him. And why not? For without a strong Singaporean Core, all the whales in the world would result in nothing.

So, we think it’s not too much of a stretch to call him Mr Singaporean Core.

Anyway, back to his union with NTUC.

It remains a good fit. NTUC is at the heart of Singapore’s unique blend of tripartism, and it supports workers to remain employable for life while enhancing their social status and well-being. This while moderating their cost of living.

“I start my introductions with ‘I work at NTUC. But just for your information, I don’t sell vegetables. I don’t sell insurance. I’m the trade union side of the house’,” says Mr Tay, who’s found that this easy association helps really well on a few levels.

“The NTUC’s FairPrice and Income brands are very strong. They top all the brand awards,” he explains. “So now we’re working closer together. Seeing how we can leverage on each other’s strengths — the trade union’s strong too, now our membership’s more than a million.”

According to a report at the Ordinary Delegates’ Conference held last November, NTUC membership hit 1,075,958 as at June 2021, an increase from 962,737 in 2019.

“It’s an overall social mission: look after the lives and livelihoods of the common man and workers, and to keep prices competitive and low as possible,” Mr Tay says about the NTUC’s different roles. “So it’s not mutually exclusive.”

An example of NTUC’s advocacy?

“We’ve been lobbying in Parliament for the last decade or so. Always on worker issues and how we can better look after workers. Particularly important the last two-and-a-half years.”

Why ah?

“Covid,” answers Mr Tay. “We lobbied the Government to help through the Job Support Scheme [JSS]. To cut costs and save jobs. We were intently focused on that.”

This was a two-pronged intervention.

The JSS gave employers, especially those in hard-hit sectors, a wage subsidy to tide them over the worst of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, workers from sectors temporarily redundant (such as aviation) were funnelled to other sectors for work as transport ambassadors, Safe Distancing Ambassadors, swabbers and healthcare ambassadors — areas that critically needed manpower.

Here, the results of his advocacy helped see Singapore’s workers through.

A “How to” for PMETs during difficult times

Yet, challenges for PMETs and the economy remain.

High inflation is likely this year. A skills mismatch, where there just aren’t enough skilled workers to fill Singapore’s job vacancies (think round holes for square pegs) will also cause problems.

“But you can’t get these people overnight,” Mr Tay points out. And here, Petir.sg notes that this skills mismatch can become even more stark when new sectors in the economy, such as info-communications technology (ICT) and sustainability ramp up in importance.  

PMETs, liddat how?

“Stretch your dollar,” he says of essential items. “There’s a reason why NTUC house-brands them. The loaf of FairPrice white bread stayed at S$1.20 for a decade till today.”    

“Your job is your best security. You don’t have a job, you’re going to be worse off,” Mr Tay adds. “You can stretch S$1 But if you don’t have a job to have at least regular income, I think that’s that.”

He speaks here from experience — approximately two decades in NTUC and crunching statistical and interview data to co-write the October 2021 NTUC-SNEF PME Taskforce Report, which aimed to understand the key concerns and needs of PMEs at the workplace.

The report recommends to strengthen Singaporean core through enhancing EP application review process and facilitating skills transfer to local PMEs; and develop structured jobs and skills plans for PMEs through Company Training Committees (CTCs).

“Constantly upgrade or renew your skills,” he continues. “And you can do more and do better. You can progress your career, you get better pay. That helps alleviate inflationary challenges.”

“So that’s why we say: please stay employed and employable.”