By Ian Tan Hanhonn
For 60 years, union leaders have been at the forefront of taking care of workers’ wages, welfare and work prospects. This article is one of a 14-part series where union leaders from various industries give insights into what matters to them and workers on the ground.
“Hey Brother,” Raymond Chin greeted me with a smile and a wave of his hand as he approached.
Honestly, I did not know what to expect from my first face-to-face interview with the 39-year-old Union of Security Employees (USE) general secretary.
Before our meeting, I had attended his media briefing on a study of the security sector, as well as the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) around a year ago. Back then, he exuded a sense of gravitas and no-nonsense demeanour during his presentation.
But today, he was different.
Decked out in a polo shirt and jeans, the father of two appeared more relaxed and jovial than our previous encounter.
We exchanged pleasantries like two long-lost friends as we made our way towards a lounge area within the NTUC Building.
On Becoming a Union Leader
Before becoming a union leader, Raymond declared that he had never done any volunteer work on a regular or full-time basis.
“I was just an Operations Executive then. I did not know about NTUC, no knowledge of the Labour Movement, nothing at all, zero.”
But Raymond thrived in the industry and today, not only USE’s general secretary and an operations manager in his security firm, he is also the chairman of the NTUC Building and Facility Management Services cluster.
I was curious about where he finds the motivation to dedicate so much of his time to carry out union work.
He pauses and thinks for a moment before candidly replying: “I am just happy to see my guys being treated fairly. And, of course, being able to bring home a decent salary, being able to feed their families, live comfortably and have enough time for their family. I think those are very important.”
On Transforming the Security Industry
Raymond believes that the industry has come a long way since he first started.
He said: “I have seen how the industry has progressed over the years. In the past, a day’s work was around $50. Now with PWM, I dare say that we have helped double that salary.”
Beyond the increase in security officers’ pay, Raymond also shared that the union, together with the tripartite partners, has helped ringfence the security officer role into a largely Singaporean- and PR-based role.
“We made it such that we protect the Singaporean Core,” he added.
He also shared about transforming the perception of the security industry and professionalising the sector so that it will not be seen as the last option, but a career of choice.
He explained: “It was never the intention to make this the last career of choice. In the past, we built this role as something that Singaporeans could fall back on.”
Citing the example of people in the past getting a taxi license as a backup, he said: “We are [now] trying to move away from that mindset. Simply put, we are asking ourselves, ‘Is this job something that we would want our kids to be doing?’ If the answer is no, then we have yet to reach our goal.”
On Transforming the Cluster
From security, we went on to talk about the building and facility management service cluster and attracting new talent.
While he said that the cluster has done well in recent years and even in the face of the pandemic, he was not sure if the younger generation would see the opportunities that the cluster has to offer.
“But we still need this group of people to come in and take on roles such as operations, and that is why we are constantly talking about the built environment. The NTUC Secretary-General has also been talking about it because we want to merge the different jobs,” he said.
“Merge them?” I thought out loud.
“Take security and facilities as an example. We are trying to merge the two so that someone coming into the industry will not just be looking at the career track in security, but also in facility management.
“Youngsters these days no longer want to work just for a salary – they also want to see their career grow both vertically [progression] and horizontally [wider area of expertise]. If we cannot provide them with the range of opportunities, we won’t be able to attract them into the industry,” he said.
“So, what is being done to reach out to these younger group?” I asked.
He said: “We are trying to reach out to the ITEs, which is something that the NTUC U Care Centre is trying to do now. Of course, we can’t be going there telling students to become cleaners. But what we can do is tell them about the built environment and facility management. And what comes under facility management? We have cleaning, landscape, security and so much more.”
And that is why Raymond hopes to uplift the salaries of the workers in his cluster.
“If we are always at the lowest 20th percentile [in wages], we can never be attractive enough to attract the ideal talents, and that is my concern. Yes, it may take five, 10, maybe more years to reach an attractive salary range for the market forces to stabilise, and for the younger workers to realise that there are opportunities in this area – but it is not going to happen overnight,” he said.
On the Progressive Wage Model
On the implementation of the PWM, Raymond explained that its inception came after the tripartite partners carried out their studies on the minimum wage in various overseas economies.
He detailed: “We went over to a few countries to study it on a tripartite level. We went to Hong Kong, Australia and Sweden. It was a tripartite effort, meaning to say, the Ministry of Manpower, the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department, NTUC and Associations were invited to take part in this study.
“We first went to Hong Kong to see why the minimum wage didn’t work… We went there to understand the legislation model, how did they do it. So with the idea of minimum wage, we came back and we improved on it, calling it our now Progressive Wage. So essentially, the Progressive Wage Model is indeed a form of minimum wage, just that it has ladders in place to make it progressive.”
So why didn’t the minimum wage model not work?
“Let me give you a scenario. Imagine if you have two workers on the minimum wage, worker A and worker B. Worker A is a very hard worker, and worker B is just there for the salary.
“With minimum wage, you’ll create an imbalanced rewarding system between two persons. After a while, the system will just not work, because the one who is putting effort will feel that he is being short-changed. The whole system will collapse,” he explained.
On Seeing Things Work
Seeing so many changes being implemented to the security industry during his union journey, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was one of the reasons why he continues to do what he does today.
“When you see things work, and you know it works partially because of your inputs, you get a feeling of satisfaction.
“I wouldn’t go as far as to call it shaping policies, but I would call it helping to ‘influence’ policies. It gives me a form of satisfaction knowing what I’ve said has helped the workers in the sector and beyond,” he said.