Imagine our excitement when we had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick, Assistant-Secretary General of NTUC, one of his many portfolios. Equipped with a Master in Laws, we asked Patrick about his motivation and vision for the future of employment law in Singapore.
What made you choose to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
I am currently heading up the in-house legal function in NTUC, before joining NTUC, I embarked on my childhood ambition to be a policeman as I had always been very passionate about justice and fairness. I spent the first six years of my career after law school doing just that on a scholarship with the Public Service Commission.
Upon completion of my scholarship bond with the force, I decided to join NTUC and started out at its Skills Development Department and shortly thereafter in Industrial Relations and the Unions.
I think what drives me today is still the same as what drives me so many years ago – rights, fairness and justice (for the workers). What at first was just a “look see” when I joined became a career that spans over 17 years and still going!
I enjoy what I do immensely, so there are many pull factors for what drives me today. Being able to lobby for employment act changes and seeing how the labour law landscape has changed since then, the welfare of workers improved – it gives deep meaning to the work I do to be able to serve fellow workers.
Some of these include the Employment Act amendments in 2014 and 2018, Industrial Relations Act changed in 2015, and the partnership with the Law Society of Singapore – there are monthly legal clinics now for union members just to name a few.
Do you see any skills/mindset that you have as a lawyer that is applicable across all professions?
A digital mindset. Increasingly lawyers need to be agile, able, and adaptable. We live in a very fast paced society. With things moving so fast, lawyers need to be agile in their thinking, ready for digital disruptions – even if it does not happen in their sector, it can happen in their clients’. Lawyers need to stay resilient amidst the ups and downs in the legal sector and re-skill and re-tool to remain relevant.
Able – consistently upgrading to be equipped with new skills is so vital. With all the changes, AI, PDPA, new laws – to also be armed with new knowledge and skills will make a big difference in the long run.
Adaptable – It is time to look beyond the traditional work and work processes of the legal profession and be adaptable to what the market and client needs are. There will be ups and downs in every industry, possessing this quality is applicable across all professions.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I think it’s the tripartite interests (of workers, employers and the Government) that is a challenging. There is a fine delicate balance that when achieved, will bring about the desired win-win-win outcome. Looking after the rights of the workers amidst these interests – to guard, defend and better it, is probably the most exciting challenge yet.
What do you think are some of the common misconceptions about being a lawyer?
Very glam. The first misconception is that lawyers are ‘very glam’ and don’t have to work too hard but earn a lot of money.
And that cannot be further from the truth. Lawyers put in a lot of long hours because there is just no short cut to hard work. There are also such high expectations for lawyers to fulfil – they should accumulate years of experience, have sound content knowledge, must be at the forefront of technology, and keep themselves updated on the latest policies and laws etc. The list goes on…it’s like a speeding treadmill.
Any legal issues or area do you think will become more significant in the future?
Definitely employment and labour issues – there were quite a number of changes over the past 7 years. Personal Data – data laws now are thrust into the spotlight because data is moving across geographical boundaries. Data privacy, the ethics concerning data collection, disclosure and protection will once again be up on the table for discussion. Last, competition law – lately we have seen the Grab-Uber saga as well as several other interesting cases in this area of practise.
What other skills do you think young lawyers need to stay relevant in the future?
Two skills –
Seeing things from a business angle – We cannot always view a situation from a single point of view. Lawyers need to learn to view the overall situation from various angles and be able to pinpoint what is best for the client – to help client make the best business decision strategically.
The ability to communicate is very important. I think it is similar across many industries and professions. The clients you deal with will probably come from all walks of life. From the high-level client to the businessman on the ground or the SMEs. With all the complexities of the law, one needs to learn how to simplify it without losing the intended meaning.
What do you think of the recent changes to the Employment Act?
I think it was a watershed moment in the labour legislation space – backtrack 50 years ago when the Employment Act was promulgated, it did not cover any managers or executives for decades. Yet in the last five years, they made two significant amendments to the Act. Some 430,000 workers who are Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) had benefited from the latest change. I think that gives the most meaning to my work.
And it has been projected that by 2030, two thirds of the population will be in PMET jobs. This is a segment of the workforce that we need to look after to ensure that they are protected and taken care of.
Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?
I love cooking! Any cuisine – baking bread, cakes, Chinese food.
(Maybe you can name us a few dishes you are good at?)
Claypot rice and Tau Suan!
I also taught for an Employment module at the University for a term or two (Grasp!) and was involved in writing headnotes for the Singapore Law reports years ago when they were updating it.
I also do some extreme sports such as diving, and martial arts.
All in all we had a really fruitful catch up with Patrick and look forward to the big things upcoming on his plate.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.