Helping hands: The main faces of NTUC’s Care and Share initiative are Mr Zainal Sapari, director of NTUC’s Care and Share Department and Unit for Contract and Casual Workers and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC with union leader Francis Lim, president of United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries (UWEEI). — PHOTO: CHAN SEET FUN
She took a break from work, every couple of hours or so, to lie down. Chronic back pain gave her no other choice. The bosses of this quality control inspector found her low productivity unacceptable.
They talked to her about it and suggested that she should seek medical attention. She did, but to no avail.
Back pain continued to plague her and she found it physically impossible to improve her productivity. Her bosses did not know what to do. They did not reprimand her. But they did call the union for help.
Mr Francis Lim, 53, president of United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries (UWEEI), stepped in to provide a listening ear, and help solve the problem of this worker not being able to carry out her duties satisfactorily.
‘It was clear that it could not go on like that. It was better for her to take time off work completely, so that she could fully recover,’ he told The Straits Times Online.
He advised the union member about obtaining the necessary medical documentation saying that she was unfit for work and her employer granted her an undisclosed sum, which helped tide her over.
Two years later, she recovered and found another job, recounted Mr Lim. Mr Lim, an assistant engineer, is also chairman of NTUC Care and Share Committee. He sees himself as a union leader, mentor, friend and colleague.
‘They (union leaders) are the touch points for our workers. They show care and concern to our workers on a daily basis,’ explained Mr Zainal Sapari, 47, director of NTUC’s Care and Share Department and Unit for Contract and Casual Workers and MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
What does it mean to be a union member? He said: ‘I know for sure that there’s someone who can help if I’m ever in need.’
Besides case-by-case assistance, union members also receive help from the various assistance programmes that help them cope with the cost of living and their children’s school-related expenses.
Mr Zainal said: ‘There are low-wage workers in Singapore but there are also many helping hands. And the NTUC Care and Share Department is one of these helping hands.
‘The Labour Movement has been reaching out and helping our low-income members and their families over the years through several assistance programmes, focusing on helping low-income members defray the cost of daily necessities, helping children level the playing field and helping the elderly.’
He added that these programmes complement other avenues of help such as those provided by the ministries and tend ‘to err on the side of generosity’.
In 2011, the NTUC U Care Fund disbursed over $9 million to help 90,000 low-income union members and their families. The fund was set up in 2009 to consolidate the Labour Movement’s fundraising efforts.
The U Care Fund supports programmes including U Stretch vouchers, U Care Back to School vouchers, Family Recreation and Fun Carnivals, U Care Education Co-funding scheme, and donations to NTUC Eldercare Trust and NTUC First Campus Bright Horizons Fund (see more details about the programmes at the bottom of this story).
Mr Zainal said: ‘While our programmes mainly support our union members and their families, we also contribute towards helping needy children attend pre-school, as well as the elderly in our community, through our donations.’
Paying it forward
Not only that, unions are also encouraged to organise community outreach initiatives that benefit senior citizens, children with special needs, and children living in the various homes.
Mr Zainal said that unions have been carrying out Corporate Social Responsibility activities on their own, and now with their own funding support, he hopes that they will do even more.
‘I also think that people will be more likely to come forward if the cause is something they believe in. Thus, it is important to be clear about our purpose…we would also encourage our existing volunteers to spread the word and gather their families and friends to volunteer,’ he said.
And there are no hard and fast targets. Rather than set key performance indicators and have unions ‘chase after the figures’, the goal is to encourage them to find meaningful ways of helping that are ‘relevant to the community’.
He said: ‘Care and Share is not only about helping union members. It is about helping fellow Singaporeans.’
The plan now is to create greater awareness of the U Care Fund, to engender ownership and encourage more union members to contribute their time and money. The key is that ‘everyone can make a difference’.
He stressed that no contribution is too small and the spirit of giving is more about doing what you are able to and what you are comfortable with.
‘Don’t be paiseh (embarrassed) to donate $2,’ he said. ‘And one need not be a union leader to contribute. All members can contribute.’
Perhaps they can take a leaf from Mr Francis Lim’s approach. He said: ‘I feel good knowing that I have stretched out my hand to help someone. I don’t expect anything in return. I am just one of the many helping hands.
NTUC’s U Care Assistance Programmes:
Helping low-income union members reduce their expenditure on basic necessities. A total of $2.4 million worth of U Stretch vouchers were disbursed in 2011.
U Care Back to School Vouchers:
Helping low-income union members defray the cost of new school supplies for their children’s school needs. More than $3.77 million worth of vouchers were disbursed to over 30,000 children in 2011. Each year, a U Care Back to School Fair is also held to complement the Back to School Vouchers programme. The fair also extends the special discounts and deals on school-related merchandise to all union members as well.
Family Recreation and Fun Carnivals:
Held several times a year to encourage low-income union members and their families to bond and enjoy a day of fun at Downtown East for free. In 2011, over 32,000 attended these carnivals.
U Care Education Co-funding Scheme:
Provides co-funding to unions that offer bursaries and scholarships to their members’ children. In 2011, over $800,000 was disbursed through this scheme.
Donation to NTUC Eldercare Trust:
Provides subsidies to elderly from low-income families, so that they can benefit from services like day care and home care.
Donation to NTUC First Campus Bright Horizons Fund:
Helps children from low-income families have an equal start in life through quality pre-school education and literacy programmes.
By Chan Seet Fun
ST, May 21, 2012
Link : Reaching out to NTUC members at work using Care and Share movement