By Ramesh Subbaraman
More than 600 people attended a memorial service to honour one of Singapore’s old guards, the Late Encik Othman Wok, who passed away on 17 April 2017 at the age of 92.
Six eulogies were delivered at the service held at the Victoria Concert Hall on 19 April 2017.
Those who spoke included Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay delivered the eulogy on behalf of the Labour Movement.
The Unionist Role
He noted that while many may know Encik Othman as one of Singapore’s early political stalwarts, less was known about his role as a unionist in pre-independent Singapore.
“Encik Othman firmly believed in the power of unions - that workers should have the right to determine their own working conditions", said ASG Tay.
Encik Othman was elected as Honorary Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees’ Union (SPEU) in 1951 and served with dedication and pride.
In 1953, he represented the Malaya Publishing House (MPH) workers in a wage dispute, fighting hard and winning better terms for them.
A few months later, he became involved in a dispute between Straits Times Press Ltd workers and the company’s management.
The dispute eventually escalated into an illegal strike in February 1954, which was unsuccessful.
This was when Encik Othman and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, were brought closer together.
Encik Othman remained an inspiring figure even after he retired, recounted ASG Tay.
Encik Othman was part of a leadership team that took Singapore through the merger with and separation from Malaysia.
Today’s Singapore is shaped by the words and actions of Encik Othman and his fellow comrades –an independent, multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore.
The memorial service was attended by the family of the late Encik Othman Wok, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, cabinet ministers and representatives from the unions and the community.
The service began with a short video commemorating Encik Othman's contributions to Singapore and concluded with the observance of a minute of silence and the National Anthem.