Secrets from Geneva: A Sneak Peek into a Century-Old Event

By July 3, 2019Current

TL;DR – Singapore #represent at the 108th International Labour Conference

With the top 40s blaring in the background at a cosy Tex-Mex joint, I take a swig of my ice-cold drink and settle in my seat munching on nachos… ready to satisfy my curiosity about a century-old global event (yup, you heard me, over a hundred years!)

My counterpart, and the person I’m grilling today about the ins and outs of the 108th International Labour Conference (ILC) is Mr Raymond Chin, General Secretary of the Union of Security Employees (USE).

For the uninitiated, here’s a quick one-liner about the ILC:

It convenes annually and is the highest decision making body of the International Labour Organization, bringing together tripartite delegations from a whopping 187 of its member states.

The tripartite delegation from Singapore – representatives from National Trades Union Congress, Ministry of Manpower and Singapore National Employers Federation. That’s Raymond on the far left!


First of all Raymond, you gotta tell us how you got to go for this global event? All the way in Geneva some more… we’ve never even been anywhere close. Spill the beans!

Well, all unions from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) rotate to go and this year happened to be the Union of Security Employees’ turn to send a representative. Guess who got volunteered?

This kind of volunteering is up our alley! Next time, we volunteer okay. 😀 In the meantime, can you share more on the conference and what is the objective?  

Besides union leaders like myself, there were also other representatives from the labour movement who attended. Our Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng and President Mary Liew, were amongst those who were in Geneva for the conference. As part of the Singapore tripartite delegation, there were also representatives from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) as well as the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

Every day we would split up and sit in to different discussion groups. There were also plenary sessions for speakers to address the entire delegation, bilateral meetings (we had sessions with Malaysia, Netherlands and Sweden) as well as themed forums.


Tripartite delegation lunch with representatives from National Trades Union Congress, Ministry of Manpower and Singapore National Employers Federation. #teamsingapore


With SO MANY people across the globe in attendance, how one earth does the ILC cater to everyone’s taste buds? What did you eat?

Yes, you’re right there’re many people there. We’re talking about over 6,000 people from some 187 countries!

There are actually a couple of canteens at the venue! So everyone can pick their cuisine of choice. For the Asian palette, you can satisfy your craving with curry, Indian vegetarian or biryani. We also ventured out for some French food and Thai food. But for the most part it was western food and I must say that I have never eaten so much salad in my life!

Haha… We don’t think we can survive on salad. We need our noodle/rice fix too! #levelasian

Was there anyone you maybe lunched with or met at the conference who left a significant impression on you?

Oh! Ms Catelene Passchier, Chairperson of the Worker’s Group, gave a really powerful speech. I will always remember this portion of what she said:

“Labour is not a commodity

Freedom of expression and association are essential to sustained progress

Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere”

She supposedly broke down halfway through an impassioned speech the year before and what she said was a poignant reminder of the work that a union leader does and why we do what we do.

Unionists Mr Arasu Duraisamy (Singapore Port Worker’s Union),   Mr Raymond Chin (Union of Security Employees) and Ms Komalavalli Pakirisamy (Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore Staff Union)


Wow, that sounds very impactful and thought-provoking. On that note, how did you contribute actively to the discussion in the capacity of a unionist?

I sat in for the Committee of the Whole discussions by the Workers’ Group and was able to have a behind-the-scenes look at the various procedures involved in getting agreement to the ratifications. We also did a lot of sharing at the bilateral sessions that we had with other countries so that we could learn from one another.

Since we’ve never been to Geneva but would love to go one day, what is something we must “dabao” back to Singapore?

Chocolates!!! We went crazy buying Swiss chocolates and a few of us bought so much that I’m almost afraid to receive my credit card bill this month! Läderach and Lindt were two brands that we hauled back!


Chocolates galore in a Geneva store


LOL! Well… besides the must-buy chocolates, is there a “takeaway” that you brought back with you that can add to the Labour Movement and what you do?

After this Geneva experience, I must say that I’m really really proud to be Singaporean. When our Singapore speakers concluded their speeches or sharing, delegates from various countries would always come up to us to ask about our model of Tripartism as well as our plans for Company Training Committees (CTCs). Everyone wanted to know more about our special brand of Tripartism!

For its relative size compared to other countries, many other nations recognize that we have achieved a lot for a “little red dot”.

Sorry, Company Training Committees (CTCs)? What’s that?

In a nutshell, CTCs are about unions and management working together to help workers reskill and upskill to cope with Industry 4.0. This is to help workers become Workers 4.0 to enjoy better wages and better work prospects.

Any final sharing with our readers?

NTUC President Mary Liew was the last speaker at the thematic forum and she was tasked to give the closing speech. “Singapore, take us home!” was how she was introduced as the closing speaker and take us home she did!

As she rounded up her thoughts on transformation in Singapore, she stressed the importance for our secret sauce of success, Tripartism. She wrapped up her speech with “To us, every worker matters”, echoing the very core of what NTUC and its unions stand for.

With that, our journey at the ILC came to an end – until next year! =)

Thank you Raymond! We hope if you get to go again… you’ll bring us some chocolates this time round. =D



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Jasmine C

Author Jasmine C

Pens random musings of life for anyone who would listen to an idealistic yet practical soul. xx

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