Kopi with MP: S’pore’s workers face very real challenges; Desmond Choo and Patrick Tay assure them that support’s there 


Working in Singapore is tough.  

When you are a lower-wage worker, work life often means long hours and physical labour. 

As a PME (Professional/ Managerial/ Executive), you might likely belong to the sandwich class, caught between a) your career, b) taking proper care of Mom and Dad as they age, c) your little ones while they grow and d) have not yet figured out what happens when you get old yourself.  

And as a young worker entering the workforce, you want to do well and make a difference at your organisation, but just aren’t sure how: It’s so big and I’m so new.    

Labour MPs Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) and Patrick Tay (Pioneer SMC) hear you. They also have recommendations for making work work for you. 

We found out this out when chatting with them for Kopi with MP, which in this edition frankly tackles work issues in Singapore. 

MPs Choo and Tay have over 30 combined years of policy-planning experience while rallying groundswells of support for the rights of Singapore’s workers.  

They are also long-serving assistant secretary-generals with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC).   

Their chat with us covered important labour causes: The importance of fighting for and listening to our younger workers, skilling up older PMEs and how tripartism helps everyone — particularly low-wage workers

Really, their answers make two truths clear: Singapore’s workers face very real challenges, and the Labour Movement is helping. 

For younger workers: Fighting for (and listening to) them  

“If we don’t get this piece of work right, and we don’t stand by our younger workers, and we don’t take care of younger Singaporeans, Singapore has no hope,” says MP Choo about help.  

He walks the talk.  

As early as 2012, he was advocating for more youths to get involved in the community and constructively critique national policies

These days, he heads a task force which supports youth work and life aspirations and has spent time with Varsity Voices talking with youth about transitioning to working life. 

Source: Desmond Choo/ Facebook 

You and I were in the Police together. You remember the times we sent out a file and the file takes three days to come back again so we had some breathing space?” he asks MP Tay. 

“But for the younger people, when you speak with them now, work comes back to them so quickly,” continues MP Choo.  

“We need to work hard at evolving some of the policies that were set — maybe in the 80s, 90s — and make them relevant for younger people today.” 

He mentions Young NTUC’s Youth Career Network as a peer support initiative helping younger workers navigate their career. 

“No one gets paid to be a mentor. No one pays to be a mentee,” he says of this initiative which includes some 400 mentors and 10, 000 mentees

“If you want to be in the aviation industry, we match you up with somebody from SIA, for example. Or from SATS,” he details. 

“And they give their experience of what is it like working in industry. Not only can they give career guidance, but they gave life guidance.” 

There is the newly-launched Career Starter Lab too, he mentions. It helps current-year graduates and recently-ORDed NSMen land paid three-month training trials with partner companies.  

MP Choo also revealed that these large-scale initiatives actually come from youths. 

“Our younger people have so much life, ideas and energy. It is our job to make sure that their voices are heard. That their ideas, we try them out and give them the space to co-create with us,” he adds. 

And we leave Singapore in a much better state for them. Then they can take the torch and continue the journey.”       

So, employers and young workers, listen up. These voices are worth hearing. 

For PMES: Training and taskforces 

MP Tay is a leader who has long lobbied for laws which better protect PMEs, as well as give them a level playing field. He sees the future of work necessitating that PMEs adapt — and quickly.  

“There’ll be changes to work, changes to the workplace and changes to the workforce, and we all have to grapple with that,” shares MP Tay.  

“I met one particular PME — 50-plus — who got retrenched recently. When we segued him into an adjacent sector, he had challenges,” 

Not least because the experience of that 50-plus PME is too common for MP Tay, and since PMEs are about 60 per cent of Singapore’s workforce. 

“They may be doing the same thing for the last 10-20 years. And going into a new sector, even though still engineering or technical-related [still poses challenges],” he shares. 

“But you really need to pick up very new skills. So one of the biggest challenges in the future of work is how to overcome this shortening of the half-life of skills,” elaborates MP Tay. 

His past recommendation that companies develop their PMEs through structured training plans through Company Training Committees now helps employers keep their workers ready, relevant and resilient. 

“In the recent NTUC-SNEF [Singapore National Employers Federation] PME Taskforce, we spent a lot of energy — in fact, one whole year — directly with almost 10,000 PMEs,” MP Tay mentions. 

He shares that key fears which kept recurring involved the threat of unemployment — and then figuring out “what next?”. 

“One of the key recommendations was: Can we help them with their unemployment journey? Whatever that can help cushion them and soften that landing; that will be great,” he adds.  

Here, help at the institutional level from taskforce recommendations and on-the-ground upskilling efforts by training committees are just two help options for Singapore’s aging PMEs against the multiple responsibilities of life.  

For low-wage workers: Tripartism and the Progressive Wage Model  

You might have noticed that MPs Tay and Choo mention partnering with Singapore’s employers as well as Singapore’s workers. 

This is because tripartism is Singapore’s “secret sauce”. It means the PAP Government collaborating with NTUC as well as with the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) so that the Government, workers and employers all get winning outcomes. 

“It does mean that we can help our vulnerable workers without going through some of the tension that you find overseas, where people have to take to the streets,” says MP Choo. 

Case in point: The Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for uplifting lower-wage workers. 

“The workers get higher pay, the employers get workers with better productivity, and the Government is able to uplift our population, and provide better social assistance for all. So it was a win-win-win for everyone,” explains MP Choo. 

“It has worked for us and is continuing to work for us,” he adds on tripartism. 

Source: Patrick Tay/ Facebook 

Singapore’s workers will have help during tough times 

Any other advice, all that said, for Singapore’s workers? 

“The future of Singapore requires us to work together,” states MP Choo.  

“No one’s going to have that monopoly of the best ideas. But if we are humble enough to admit that we all need each other, Singapore will be in a much better space.” 

Source: Desmond Choo/ Facebook, Patrick Tay/ Facebook 

“We cannot shield everyone from stressors. But what we can do is that we can go through it together,” he adds.  


Our MPs Patrick Tay and Desmond Choo sat down to have a chat about all things work and career-related, in our new series, Kopi With MP. In this video, they shared one advice for younger workers today. #fypsg #tiktoksg #everyworkermatters

♬ original sound – love&lightning – love&lightning

“Work your best. Try your best. And if your best is not enough for retirement, we will help you,” he adds about his ongoing push to give Singapore’s workers unemployment support.     

If you do fall off, we’ll be there to catch you and get you back up again.”