Charting Forward with Relevance and Resilience

  • Post published:30 December 2022

Members have always been at the heart of what SMOU does, and for more than 70 years, the Union has been finding avenues to impact their lives and families.

“Are there more that we can do to meet our members’ emerging needs? Is this the best we can do to impact lives? How do we remain relevant?”

SMOU General Secretary ever so often asked these bold questions to keep SMOU on the cutting edge when exploring new opportunities to serve better.

“It is the spirit of excellence that defines the culture of SMOU. These tough questions inspire us to think out of the box, stay close to the ground and keep on progressing,” Sister Mary said.

Not one to rest on her laurels, even after a resoundingly successful year-long SMOU 70th anniversary celebration, Sister Mary continues to pursue answers and solutions to these questions with the SMOU Exco and staff.

SeaVoices catches up with her to hear her heartbeat.

SV: SMOU has crossed the 70th year mark. Congratulations! What can we look forward to in 2023?

GS: 2023 is going to be a pivotal year for SMOU. We are working towards our dream of having a new home where Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) can be housed together under one roof where it can be a one stop centre for members and also to relax and provide social and welfare services.

In the upcoming SMOU’s election in 2023, we can expect more younger executive committee members to step forward to serve. The constitution opens the door for at least two young leaders, 45 years and below, to be elected into the Exco.

The younger leaders bring new insights and ideas to the table while the more senior leaders have a reservoir of experiences and expertise. We need the best of both worlds to propel forward. We are committed to groom the next generation so that SMOU can continue our legacy and lasting impact into the decades and beyond.

To stay relevant, SMOU needs to continue to reinvent itself with the agility to change yet holding on to the core values of care and share, professionalism, integrity, loyalty, team building, innovation.

Exciting times are ahead!

SV: Does bread and butter issues remain an ongoing concern for SMOU?

GS: SMOU members employability ranks critically high in our priority. Having a job is the best welfare. Employability ties in closely with having relevant skills to offer and it is important for our members to be future ready. During the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow, the Maritime Just Transition Task Force was set up by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) UN Global Compact, International Labour Organization (ILO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO), to work out how to reskill the seafaring workforce for a digital and decarbonised future in safe and fair ways. From this, 800,000 seafarers will need additional training by the mid-2030s in order to handle alternative fuels and propulsion technologies.

SMOU and Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI) are very mindful that seafarers require additional training to achieve shipping’s accelerating decarbonisation goals. Training for the future of green shipping is therefore essential and crucial for better employment and employability of our members so that no one gets left behind.

As part of the exercise to equip maritime professionals to be LNG-ready for the Dual Fuel vessels, WMI partnered PIL and GTT Training UK to organise the STCW required programme on Basic Training For Service onboard Ships subject to the IGF Code in November 2022. We applaud PIL’s commitment towards fulfilling Maritime Singapore Decarbonisation Blueprint 2050.

In 2023, we invite more shipping partners to collaborate with WMI to upskill the existing seafarer workforce in new tech training so that they can competently transit to low-carbon transport. Let’s work together to equip our seafarers for the future of shipping and be at the forefront of the maritime industry.

We also encourage shipping companies to work with WMI to train the maritime workforce of the future in green technologies and reach environmental goals.

It is reported that Singapore’s efforts in maritime decarbonisation are projected to create and upskill a total of 1,200 sustainability-related jobs over the next 10 years. This figure is expected to increase over time.

To ride the waves of change, the way forward is also for members to assume responsibility to upgrade their skills and develop a resilient mindset of lifelong learning.

This is the reason why SMOU strongly encourages members to upskill themselves and to adopt a lifelong learning mindset. SMOU members who successfully sign up for the NTUC LearningHub’s Learning eXperience Platform (LXP), which offers a suite of over 75,000 courses, will receive $50 Lighthouse vouchers from the Union.

Thanks to the funding from NTUC LHUB and training benefits from NTUC’s Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP), members need to only pay $60 for a year’s subscription to the learning platform. SkillsFuture credits can also be used to pay for the annual fee.

SV: The pandemic has brought the mental health of seafarers to the forefront. Is this also a burning concern?

GS: Many seafarers fought a ferocious battle of the mind during the pandemic. We come face to face with stories after stories of seafarers facing anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation.  It is heartbreaking.

In 2023, together with the Mission to Seafarers, we will offer the WeCare program to our seafaring members. The online program kicks off with two certificated courses on mental well-being, equipping seafarers for their shipboard journey anytime, anywhere.

SMOU will also tap on NTUC’s initiatives towards Mental Health by organising relevant workshops for our members and providing further subsidies for counselling sessions offered by NTUC’s Mental Wellness Clinic. We urged members to come forward to be trained and in turn look out for fellow crew members who need help.

SV: One group of members that SMOU specially watches out for are the seniors who are struggling financially and are unwell.

GS: We can’t turn a blind eye to the ageing demography of our members especially those who are experiencing financial difficulties and require intermediate and long term care (ILTC) Services Assistance.

Starting from 2023, SMOU will help defray costs for ILTC services for members and their immediate families of up to S$3,000 per lifetime.  The ILTC services assistance can also be utilized on top of the exiting Hardship Assistance Scheme which is an outright cash grant or regular monthly cash aids in the event of their experiencing financial crisis.

Beyond the financial assistance, one area we want to look into is how do we help our seniors lead a meaningful, purpose-filled and positive life.

SV: There is also a special Gift for 2023?

GS: Another concern we have is the rising cost of living. The Gift for You 2023 came out of our desire to cushion the effects of inflation for SMOU members. SMOU Exco has approved for a sum of S$210,000 to be disbursed under the initiative to help some 3000 local members. The one-time S$70 payout is also symbolic of SMOUs 70th anniversary. This is our way of saying to our members that we are here for you during this difficult time, and we will continue to reach out and assist, as best as we can.

SV: As far as SMOU is concerned, building the Singapore core remains in the spotlight?

GS: SMOU has always been a strong advocate for building the Singapore seafaring core. To provide more support for our local seafarers, tripartite partners – the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA), NTUC’s employment and employability institute (e2i), Singapore Shipping Association (SSA), and SMOU – launched the Sail Milestone Achievement Programme (SailMAP) on 30 May 2022.

It brought SMOU and Wavelink great joy when out of the 21 who received the first batch of the SailMAP award presented at the Singapore Registry of Ships Forum 2022, 7 of them are our very own Tripartite Nautical Training Award (TNTA) and Tripartite Engineering Training Award (TETA) graduands, making up one third of the cohort of recipients. Well done and we are cheering you on!

SV: What stood out during the Covid-19 pandemic?

GS: Singapore was one of the first movers in the world to formulate safe crew change protocols for Singapore and the region. We also supported vaccination of our local seafarers, and transient international seafarers that called at our ports. For our seafarers who persevered to keep the global supply chain moving, we turned the crisis of generation to opportunities for collaboration.

Our joint efforts at the Singapore Crew Change Workgroup and the SG-STAR Taskforce demonstrated the true spirit of tripartism. I would to thank our local tripartite partners the Ministry of Transport (MOT), MPA, SSA, CBA companies, Exco, our colleagues from SMOU and NTUC, as well as our international partners the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC), and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS). This has only been possible with the trust the of the different parties, and we do not take this relationship, which has taken many years to build and maintain, for granted.

Together, we have impacted the lives of many seafarers, our unsung heroes. Moving forward, we must continue to strengthen and build on our long-standing relationship, so that more benefits can be given to our members and seafarers.