General Secretary Message 2020

  • Post published:24 December 2019


It is with mixed feelings that this interview with Sister Mary Liew, SMOU General Secretary, would be the last for the final print issue of SeaVoices.

“I liked the hard copies,” says Sister Mary with a tinge of nostalgia. “But it is not about me.”

SeaVoices is going digital.

For some time, shipping companies have given the feedback that a better way to reach out to seafarers internationally is to communicate online. The Instagram generation also prefers that news gets transmitted on the social media platform.

“Members on the ground have also given similar feedback and shown support for the decision,” Sister Mary adds.

With digital SeaVoices, news can be delivered timely with no constraint of space. Videos can also be uploaded. It is good for environment sustainability.

For senior members who prefer reading on paper instead of on screen, a special print issue of SeaVoices will be made available on a quarterly basis at the Members Lounge on the second floor of the Wavelink Building. They can still keep abreast of the Union’s happenings and will not be left out.

“To all the faithful readers of the print SeaVoices, thank you for growing with us and for your support. Please continue to connect with us at,” Sister Mary says.

Next year, SMOU will have its own mobile app where member and shipowner engagement will take on a brand new level of effectiveness.

“We need to integrate the way we work and operate to maximise resources. We hope to offer a seamless solution to deliver our services to our members and the maritime industry.”

“This is the digital era and SMOU, as a professional, global tripartite Union championing the interests of seafarers and adding value to the maritime community, will have to adapt and show the way.”

Exciting times are ahead.

In 2021, SMOU will turn 70 and hosting a milestone commemoration of the Union’s past, present and future will be of utmost importance. Leading the Union into its 70th Anniversary and beyond is the team of leaders elected at the Quadrennial General Council meeting in November 2018.

“Time flies. The current cohort of Exco members has served together for one full year. The team work and support for each other for the betterment of the members has been tremendous,” Sister Mary highlights.

“We are all of the same mind when it comes to leading the Union forward. We all recognise that the Union exists for the members. The set of timeless core values SMOU subscribes to acts as a moral compass. All the good work we do are measured against these values of professionalism, innovation, loyalty, team spirit and caring and sharing.”

Here are some of the good, rewarding work of 2019 that displayed how the Union internalises and works out its mission to “champion seafarers’ interests and add value to the maritime community and beyond” while holding tightly to our core value.

Solidarity of the Maritime World

SMOU has been fighting hard for the abandoned seafarers and claimed back as much as US$25 million in unpaid wages in the last 26 years. This year alone, SMOU claimed back US$1 million in unpaid wages.“It is a happy and sad moment,” expresses Sister Mary. “We are happy that SMOU played a crucial role in claiming back US$1 million of unpaid wages for the seafarers in 2019. Yet it is sad to know that there are irresponsible shipowners who could abandon the seafarers and mistreat them.”

“It is the solidarity of the global maritime unions that we look out for each other’s seafarers. We will continue to do our part together with our tripartite partners, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and its affiliates to make the maritime world a safer and fairer place for seafarers.”

To Sister Mary, who was elected as the Vice President of ITF, 2019 will also be remembered as the year that the C190 – Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190) was adopted at the ILO’s Centenary International Labour Conference held in Geneva. “We were all overjoyed when the right of everyone to a world of work free from violence and harassment was adopted. It is about time. Now the work of getting countries to ratify and implement begins.”

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Building the Singapore Core

SMOU and Wavelink’s relentless effort to build the Singapore core was rewarded when Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) celebrated its 10th Anniversary knowing that the programme has trained over 300 cadets and minted about 60 fine, young officers.

“We are humbled to be able to touch lives and improve the social mobility of these young men and women,” Sister Mary points out. TNTA would not have arrived if not for the support of Skillsfuture Singapore (SSG), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), Singapore Shipping Association (SSA) and Singapore Maritime Employers Federation (SMEF), shipping companies as well as NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute).

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“To many countries, seeing the tripartite hand at work to build the Singapore Core is unusual.”

Building the Singapore core is also very close to the heart of Ms Quah Ley Hoon who took over the helm of MPA as Chief Executive, and Ms Caroline Yang, SSA new President this year. “I am glad that we have many things in common besides being women leaders serving together as Tripartite partners in the maritime industry, we also share the same passion of building Singapore core and reaching out to our women seafarers and professionals,” says Sister Mary, with a twinkle in her eye. Sister Mary was re-elected as NTUC President at the NTUC National Delegates Conference in October this year.

Seafarer 4.0 in the Making

Another meaningful milestone for the year is the setting up of the Industry Collaboration Training Committee for the Seafaring Sector, formed between SMEF, MPA, SMOU and Singapore Organisation of Seamen supported by e2i. The MOU signing ceremony was witnessed by Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung and Sister Mary as NTUC President.

“SMOU wants to add value to the shipping companies and the seafarers. We want them to drive home the message that to remain employable, we need a combination of technical, adaptive and technology skillsets. That’s Seafarer 4.0. We hope more shipping companies will come onboard.”

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SMOU will also continue to maintain a quality training centre, through WMI to build a pool of deeply-skilled and competent Singaporean future-ready officers.

On the future of work, Sister Mary shares that the other countries are looking to Singapore to share on how we deal with it. “Our industry transformation maps and other tripartite efforts in looking out for workers’ employability have caught international attention. We are paving the way not just for our workers but also the maritime workforce who has to face the challenges that digitalisation brings.”

Extending Our Reach

2019 is also made special with the inaugural Chennai Nite and CadetsPlus programme in Chennai, India. Sharing the knowledge across the region to enhance the quality of our seafaring members in India will benefit the maritime economy as a whole.

A delegation of SMOU Exco and shipping companies also made their way to Yangon to engage our members in Myanmar at the Yangon Nite 2019 and the inaugural Wavelink Officers Seminar. At the same time, SMOU Exco also met up with the ITF affiliated union, namely the Independent Federation of Myanmar Seafarers (IFOMS).

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To further champion the interest of its Myanmar seafarers, SMOU introduced the Seafarers Medical Scheme in Myanmar. Through this scheme, we hope to extend medical benefit for our members and their dependents.

Thinking about SMOU’s regional training efforts, Sister Mary recalls an encounter with a SMOU member at the airport. “This Filipino member approached me, introduced himself and shared how he and his wife enjoyed the Manila Nite that SMOU organised. It was a nice surprise and encouragement that we are on this right track in reaching out to our members onsite.” 

Caring for Our Members and More

The care that the Union shows for its members is the trademark and core value of SMOU. The SMOU Care Fund helps needy members who require transport assistance for medical check-ups. The fund also offers bursary assistance for children of deceased members.

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“Every member matters and is worthy of our care,” Sister Mary expresses.

Just on bursary and scholarships alone, the Union has to date presented more that S$1.6 million to the members’ children. The impact this benefit has made is immeasurable.

The care the Union extends to the community is also heartwarming.

SMOU’s adoption of My First Skool (MFS) Jalan Sultan Centre with a $200,000 donation has enabled the NTUC social enterprise to do more for children who come from less privileged families.

Young SMOU (YSMOU) got into the act by bringing the children to KidZania, a Singapore indoor theme park, to learn and play.

“Imagine the joy this brings to the children. High quality ‘edutainment’ is made accessible to those who may not be able to afford it. I am so glad that our YSMOU also extends their cheer and care to the orphanage in Batam.”

SMOU also donated $300,000 to NTUC Health Nursing Home (Jurong West) this year to reach out to the less privileged elderly in the community.

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A Personal Touch

Before the interview ended, SeaVoices had to ask this question – with so much on her plate, Sister Mary still finds time to be onboard the 3-day shipboard learning journey engaging with the TNTA and TETA cadets over fireside chats. Why?

Her answer encapsulates the heart and soul of the Union.

“In a sense, we give birth to them and they are close to my heart. I want each and every cadet to succeed. They are not another cadet or trainee. They are part of the family and family looks out for each other. I always share with our cadets’ parents that if their children are out at sea, they are most welcome to join us at our SMOU events and activities. Our assurance brings them comfort that their sons and daughters are not alone.”

That speaks volumes of what the Union stands for SMOU is family.

Have a great year of learning and upgrading ahead!