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SPH printers' union urged to gear up for Net challenge - Nov 03, 2007 (ST)

BackNov 03, 2007

The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

SPH printers' union urged to gear up for Net challenge

Lim Boon Heng calls on printing workers to work with management to prepare for changes.

By Yeo Ghim Lay
Nov 03, 2007
The Straits Times

A UNION that represents non-editorial workers of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) was urged yesterday to work with its management to prepare for the challenges posed by new media.

PARTNERSHIP: Blowing out the candles to mark the union's 60th anniversary are (from left) SPHEU adviser Warren Lee, SPH CEO Alan Chan, Mr Lim, Mr Johari and SPHEU president David Teo. Photo/ DESMOND LIM

Former labour chief Lim Boon Heng made the call to the SPH Employees' Union (SPHEU) when he highlighted the possibility of the Web displacing print in giving news and the impact of such a change on the future of printing workers, many of whom are members of the SPHEU.

Mr Lim, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was speaking to some 600 people at a dinner to celebrate the union's 60th anniversary. They included SPH's chief executive officer Alan Chan and NTUC president John De Payva.

The minister traced the problems the Web is giving US newspapers, and said papers here face the same issues.

'How well the newspaper company responds to the challenge of the new media will determine how profitable it remains, and for how long.'

No one can see when a new equilibrium will settle in but for now, SPH is seen by some as 'a money-printing company', said Mr Lim.

'Credit must be given to the management for keeping it a highly profitable company so far,' he added.

But one thing is certain - printing workers are headed for a critical period that may transform their lives, warned Mr Lim.

Pointing to the recent crackdown in Myanmar, he said the way new media allowed ordinary people to report the news signalled what the future portends.

With so much on the Internet, journalists may be required to sieve through, verify and deliver the true account 'through the preferred medium', said Mr Lim.

'While it is difficult enough for journalists to shift from writing for print to writing for the Web or other mediums, the shift for printers will be much more difficult, and there will be fewer printers required if the market share falls.'

So, SPHEU leaders, he said, have a vested interest to know what direction the management will take, when, and how it will impact on their members.

Urging them to cooperate with management to prepare for the changes, he said: 'They alone know what the changes have to be and how fast they will happen.'

These changes will come as Singapore moves towards the re-employment of older workers, noted the minister.

A re-employment law, requiring firms to give workers a chance to go on working after the retirement age of 62, will be introduced in 2012.

Mr Lim noted that in view of the new media challenges, SPH may find it expedient to let older workers go and hire those with the skills to 'support a re-invented SPH'.

'But that would be socially irresponsible,' he said.

'SPHEU leaders therefore have to take a leading role if re-employment is going to happen for your members.'

The SPHEU has taken the first step towards re-employment, with the signing of a collective agreement (CA) with SPH's management last month. In it, workers who reach age 62 will be considered for re-employment if they are medically fit and have performed well.

'We are one of the first few unions to do this,' union general secretary Johari Mohd Sadli, 61, told The Straits Times yesterday.

In his speech, Mr Johari said the clause in the CA shows the union and the management are addressing Singapore's ageing population issue and 'finding ways to overcome this before it becomes a problem'.

'Its inclusion also shows we recognise the value that mature workers bring to the company,' he said.