NTUC has always been at the forefront of championing women's rights, be it on a professional or social front.
NTUC Women and Family Unit Director Yeo Wan Ling touched on the efforts NTUC has made for women in her latest parliamentary speech on 3 August 2021.
In her speech, she took the opportunity to honour past NTUC women activists such as NTUC’s first female Central Committee member and founding chairperson of the NTUC’s Women’s Committee Annabella Sim, and former Deputy Secretaries-General Yu-Foo Yee Shoon and Halimah Yacob.
Ms Yeo also welcomed the solidarity the Workers’ Party has shown in joining the Government and NTUC’s ongoing efforts towards elevating and empowering women.
“Willing to listen, willing to put in the hard work, and willing to look ahead. These are principles on which the Labour Movement has moved to organise our society’s resources and shake up cultural mindsets to elevate and empower the women of Singapore,” she said.
Ms Yeo said the Ms Sim and her team of unionists started their journey in the 70s with an ear to the ground, listening to the needs of women workers.
They discovered then that many working women had to leave their jobs after giving birth to care for their families.
The discovery led to the birth of pioneering efforts by women of the Labour Movement to provide childcare support, allowing mothers to rejoin the workforce.
From its humble beginnings in 1977, NTUC Childcare – now known as NTUC First Campus – has grown substantially with two preschool brands, 20,000 childcare enrolments, 160 preschools across Singapore and nine primary-school based student care centres across Singapore.
When Mrs Yu-Foo and the unions took over, they expanded the then Department of Social Welfare’s 10 childcare centres in 1977. The effort was in response to women’s declining labour force participation rates after childbirth.
Ms Yeo said: “Pioneering and building our childcare infrastructure was no small feat, yet our movement decided it was worth the hard work if we could get childcare support out there for all working women who would need it.”
When Singapore met a sustained labour shortage and an ageing population problem in the early 2000s, Ms Yeo said it was a golden opportunity to usher women back into the workforce. Still, it needed to be delicately balanced with support for women to start families.
“As the Director of the Women’s Programme then, our President Mdm Halimah Yacob and the NTUC Women’s Committee started the Back to Work [B2W] Programme in 2006 to create new opportunities for women in the workforce.
“The programme, with a robust strategy including recruitment, re-adjustment and retention plans for women’s return to the workforce was intended for the benefit of future generations,” she said.
The B2W Programme has since helped more than 20,000 women return to work and provided training to more than 30,000 women.
Ms Yeo added that NTUC would continue to work with tripartite partners to implement and redesign jobs to enable women to return to work.
“The enterprise, tenacity and vision of our women who had gone before us indeed lay the foundation for the work we continue today, and we are glad to have reinforcements even across party lines to continue their good work.
“As we consider the motion filed for a whole-of-society approach in empowering women, we say let’s do it, and let us continue to do it the way we have been doing it for years – being willing to listen, willing to put in the hard work, and willing to look ahead,” she said.