A lesson how he did it in the past; older Singaporeans unfazed,
but younger ones who'd never seen it before, shocked. By
Seah Chiang Nee, Sunday Star.
Jan 11, 2004
FOR the first time since he retired as prime minister 13
years ago, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew has emerged to show young Singaporeans
how tough he can be when facing a threat.
80-year-old Senior Minister said he was taking personal
charge to "clean up" a problem posed by the 1,700-member
pilots union of Singapore Airlines (SIA), possibly heading
off a strike.
feeling the government’s response was slow or inadequate,
Lee came out swinging, providing young Singaporeans a glimpse
of how he used to handle problems during his time.
of "cracking heads" if the pilots union moved
towards a strike that could rip apart Singapore’s
aviation and tourism-related businesses, which employ 220,000
Lee is worried about the future of the national carrier,
one of the world’s most successful, and Changi Airport
even without the pilots’ action.
two major assets have entered 2004 with a severe challenge
from budget airlines and the advent of long-haul aircraft
which could bypass Singapore as a stopover point.
into attack mode, the ageing senior minister has made good
his pledge to "speak out" in times of turmoil.
when he retired as Prime Minister, he likened his advisory
role to that of a goalkeeper keeping the city out of trouble.
However, he added, he would never retire from politics and
would even "rise up from my grave" if things went
he appears to be doing just that - except it is more than
Lee warned the recalcitrant pilots that he would "break
heads" if necessary to stop potential industrial action
55% of the pilots had recently voted to sack its leaders
for accepting a 16.5% pay-cut during last year’s business
slump caused by SARS.
government, SIA’s majority owner, this was tantamount
to preparing for war since both parties were about to negotiate
a new wage structure.
the language that earned him a fearsome reputation as an
authoritarian leader, Lee said the government was prepared
to go to the brink, and it was no bluff.
is a very serious game of brinkmanship we are playing.
rest (45%) decided not to sack the old committee, so we
have 45% who will stay," Lee told the Straits Times.
the 55% who will leave, I think we are prepared to see half
of them go, or if worse comes to the worst, all go."
message appeared to have sunk in. Newly elected union president
Mok Hin Choon says he wants to heal the rift.
his harsh action, Lee said what was at stake was the future
of SIA and Changi Airport, which were already facing threats
from budget airlines and long-haul aircraft.
on SIA to deal fairly during the talks with the pilots but
made it clear he wanted no strike or industrial action.
Minister Goh Chok Tong also warned the pilots that the airline
would be grounded if they went on strike.
group of employees in Singapore should act without regard
for the impact on others, or hold the company and fellow
workers hostage to their narrow self-interests," Goh
that may not be the end of the trouble. Lee has warned of
more SIA cost-cutting, and retrenchment.
further job losses at SIA would be inevitable as the airline
cuts costs to become trim, and fight and win in a more difficult
carrier had to look at its various cost components and remove
redundancies, he added.
it needs to reduce costs by 10% to 15%, some costs could
not be compromised, such as those for fuel - which make
up about a fifth of the total bill - and maintenance, as
well as for the food it serves.
wages make up 15% to 20% of the total cost, it did not mean
SIA’s cost-reduction efforts should focus only on
had to study this problem because it needs to be looked
into," Lee said.
luxury of just carrying on as before is something we cannot
toughness was no surprise to the older generation. But young
Singaporeans, who are unused to this bare-knuckle style,
were shocked by it.
liberal breed that dominates Internet groups was vocal,
calling it dictatorial interference in what was a union-employer
action may make it harder for his son, Hsien Loong, to convince
Singaporeans that he will not inherit his father’s
authoritarian characteristics when he takes over as Prime
Minister this year.
a widespread fear among Singaporeans that the open, responsive
society under the milder PM Goh will come to an end.
reason is the senior minister’s unchanged position
after Hsien Loong, who is now Deputy Prime Minister and
Finance Minister, takes over.
these years, he has retained a vast influence over the government
and Singapore. Many people believe Hsien Loong will have
a hard time - as had Goh - getting out from the senior minister’s
however, see the father’s continuing presence as useful
for Singapore as it encounters tough new challenges and
the public’s discomfort about him is high on Hsien
interview last week, he emphasised there will be no turning
back of the clock when he takes over and the opening-up
process will continue, and even pick up speed.
have no doubt that society will have to open up further,"
he told a Harvard Club dinner.
was going through a transition not just because of a changing
of the guard, but rather the world had changed irrevocably
which precluded going back.
generation born after independence now formed the majority,
and strategies to grow the economy and bond the people to
Singapore had to change.
the Government? It "will pull back from being all things
to all citizens?.
article was written for and first published in The Sunday
Star on Jan 11, 2004).