As a unionist, Minister of State, and the President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob always had the welfare of workers at heart.
Throughout her illustrious 45-year career in both the Labour Movement and politics, she championed skills upgrading, better working conditions for women, and re-employment of mature workers in the public sector – just to name a few.
She truly believed that for society to “do good”, its people had to “do together”.
Mdm Halimah was sworn in as President of Singapore on 14 September 2017. She is also the republic’s first female president.
Mdm Halimah’s involvement with the Labour Movement dates back all the way to when she first graduated from the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore).
She first started out as an industrial relations officer with NTUC back in 1978, rising through the ranks and managing various portfolios over the years before being appointed as deputy secretary-general of the congress in 2007.
While she was with the Labour Movement, she also served as the Executive Secretary of the United Workers of Electronics & Electrical Industries (UWEEI).
Through her various portfolios, she actively championed for better wages, welfare and work prospects. She took special interest in the needs of lower-wage workers, working women's rights and welfare at the workplace, as well as the challenges faced by mature workers.
Many have described her as an individual with a big heart for the community. Most notably, she has been described as someone who is truly passionate about helping those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable, strengthening their voices and ensuring their concerns are addressed.
In another first, Mdm Halimah was also the first Singaporean trade unionist to be elected to the governing body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1999.
As part of the ILO, she represented the Labour Movement on various international platforms and was well recognised and respected by the international labour movement community.
Mdm Halimah spent much time with NTUC championing women's rights and pushing for greater family cohesion.
In an exclusive interview with LabourBeat in 2018, she said: “I believe that it is important to strengthen women’s leadership at all levels and in all areas. This is the key to ensure that women’s voices are heard and there is a sustainable momentum for their growth and development.”
In 2008, she was appointed as the director of the Women’s Development Secretariat, which saw her fight for improved paternity leave, enhanced maternity benefits and anti-discrimination measures for pregnant employees.
A pioneer in advancing better work-life balance for all workers, she worked extensively with different Government bodies to push for more funding support for flexible-work schemes.
Mdm Halimah made her political debut in the 2001 General Election. She was part of a five-member People’s Action Party (PAP) team contesting in the Jurong Group Representation Constituency.
In 2011, she was called to join the government sector full-time and stepped down from her position in NTUC.
After winning the General Election, she was appointed Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), which she served until 2012 before a cabinet reshuffle that same year.
In the following year, she was nominated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as the Speaker of Parliament. On 14 January 2013, she became the first woman to helm the position.
As Singapore’s President, Mdm Halimah continued to show strong support towards the tripartite partners, especially to NTUC. She strongly believed that if unions, employers, and the Government worked together, there were no challenges that they could not overcome.
She remained committed in engaging unions and caring for workers on the ground.
In 2018, she launched the Empowering for Life Fund. Part of the fund went towards NTUC's LIFT-UP Pathfinder programme, which enabled lower-income members to upskill as a family.
In 2019, she graced the opening of NTUC’s ReUnion exhibition at the National Museum. The exhibition commemorated the important milestones for NTUC and workers in general over the past 60 years of the Labour Movement’s journey in fighting for workers’ rights while maintaining industrial peace and ensuring that workers are prepared for future jobs.
Most recently, she engaged the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU) and Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU) union leaders in a dialogue to hear how the unions were tackling challenges in the healthcare industry.
Mdm Halimah announced on 29 May 2023 that she will not be running for Singapore’s top public office in the upcoming presidential election.
She wrote: “It has been a great honour and privilege to serve as the eighth President of Singapore for the past six years. The experience has been the most inspiring and, at the same time, humbling.”
The election is scheduled to be held by 13 September 2023.
In a statement, NTUC President Mary Liew said: “As Singapore’s first female President, Madam Halimah Yacob took on the responsibility with courage, strength and empathy. Under her steadfast leadership and ability to work with the Government and different community, business, labour and civil groups, Singaporeans continue to be united and Singapore remains a prime model for good governance and a multi-racial and multi-religious country.
“President Halimah has a big heart and cares for our people, always wanting to hear their aspirations and concerns, and more importantly, taking action to make their lives better. We know this because of her many valuable contributions during her 33 years with our Labour Movement serving our workers. As President of Singapore, she has done the same for Singaporeans. Thank you President Halimah, for being there for our workers, Singaporeans and Singapore!”
In a Facebook post following the announcement, NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng paid tribute to Mdm Halimah.
He said: “Mdm President, we extend our heartfelt gratitude for always standing by our workers and for Singapore. As a President, you have shown us the meaning of passion, empathy and humility – values that we too, hold dearly as unionists.
“NTUC and the Labour Movement deeply appreciate your unwavering commitment, and we wish you the very best in your future endeavors.”
Mdm Halimah also expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to serve the nation as its president and thanked its people for their trust in her over the last few years.
She shared that the experience has allowed her to meet with thousands of citizens of varying ages and walks of life, many of whom have shared their dreams and hopes for Singapore.
“I have been most fortunate to be given a chance to serve all Singaporeans regardless of race, language or social standing as the President of Singapore. I will forever cherish the fond memories of the people I have met and the experiences acquired during my term,” said Mdm Halimah.