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MOS Josephine Teo's Congratulatory Speech on Mdm Halimah Yacob's Appointment as Speaker of Parliament, at The Parliament, 14 Jan 2013

14 Jan 2013

1 When I joined the NTUC in 2005, I learnt of the tireless efforts of many outstanding union leaders and their sterling contributions to tripartism in Singapore.  They were the shining stars whom younger unionists like me look up to, and Mdm Halimah Yacob was among those who shone the brightest.

2 One of her biggest contributions to the labour movement was her expertise in labour legislation, which she built up through her intense focus on championing the rights of workers ever since she joined the NTUC in 1978.  Over the years, Mdm Halimah became the "go-to" person for NTUC's affiliated unions on matters of the law.  She represented them at the Industrial Arbitration Court on a wide range of cases, including disputes on working hours, annual increments, bonuses, and retrenchment benefits. 

3 For her legal opponents, it must have been quite daunting to be up against her formidable knowledge of labour law, never mind her reputation for dogged persistence. In a landmark 2009 case, her arguments helped to confirm the important principle that a union's right to engage in collective bargaining is enshrined in the law and cannot be ignored by employers. It was, and still is, no exaggeration to refer to her as "a walking dictionary of labour law”. 

4 Mdm Halimah is also widely respected as a champion for women.  She started the iconic Back-to-Work programme, and spoke out passionately for more support to help women who had taken time out to care for young families to re-enter the workforce.  She stood up for single mothers and started the WeCare for U programme to provide emotional and practical support to them, placing strong emphasis on their children's education.  Needless to say, Mdm Halimah helped to nurture many women union leaders by guiding and mentoring them.

5 In the international labour movement, Mdm Halimah is a well-known and well-respected advocate of workers’ interests.  Singapore’s unique brand of tripartism has drawn its share of criticisms over the years.  However, through the active representation of our union leaders like Mdm Halimah, we have won over our detractors. 

6 There is no one at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) who doesn’t know her.  In recognition of her steadfast commitment to the cause of the ILO, she was elected as the Workers' Vice-Chairperson of the Standards Committee of the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva on four separate occasions.  Significantly, she was elected as the Workers’ Spokesperson for two important ILC Committees - on Human Resources Development and Training in 2003 and 2004, and on Domestic Workers when it was first formed in 2010.

7 Even after Madam Halimah was appointed Minister of State, she offered to return to the ILC to finish the challenging task she had started in 2010 to have the ILO adopt a new Convention and Recommendation aimed at improving the working conditions of domestic workers worldwide. She was a key contributor to the successful adoption of this new landmark standard in 2011, a standard that was first raised at the ILC in 1948 but never materialised.  Giver her high standing, I am certain she will be very valuable to the NTUC should it decide to appoint her in an advisory role.

8 My esteemed colleagues, Mdm Halimah deserves all the accolades you have heard or read about her.  There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is here on her own merit, and not because of her gender, race or connections.  In my humble opinion, her election as Singapore’s 9th Speaker of Parliament is nothing less than an inspired choice of the highest order.  Not only does she have the personal qualities to discharge the duties of Speaker with competence and dignity, she embodies the courage and conviction of Singaporeans who rise above their circumstances. 

9 In doing so, she bears true testimony to the system of meritocracy that has served Singapore so well.  She is a reminder to all of us in the house of our shared purpose, and that is to keep improving the lives of fellow Singaporeans so that each citizen has the opportunity to fulfill his or her highest potential.

10 Please join me to congratulate our new Speaker, Mdm Halimah Yacob.