by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
Govindasamy Kandasamy (b. 23 May 1921, Province Wellesley, Penang–d. 20 March 1999, Singapore), better known as G. Kandasamy, was a veteran union leader, politician and community leader. He founded the Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE) in 1959 and served as its general secretary until 1995. He was also a deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly from 1959 to 1961.1
Kandasamy received his early education at St Mark’s School, Butterworth, and Anglo-Chinese School, Penang.2 After his family moved to Singapore, he enrolled in St Joseph’s Institution. In 1936, he lost a chance to study at the Agriculture College in Serdang, Malaya, as he was unable to obtain a letter from St Joseph’s Institution to justify his request for hostel fee waiver.3
In 1937, Kandasamy started his career as a clerk at the General Post Office in Fullerton Building. By 1956, he had risen through the ranks to the position of assistant controller of posts but he subsequently gave up the job to enter politics.4
In 1959, he stood for election as a People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate, and was elected member of Parliament for the Kampong Kapor constituency. That same year, he was also elected deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly. In 1961, he stepped down from this appointment and became the parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Culture, but resigned 1963 due to a perceived conflict of interest with his role as a trade unionist.5
Kandasamy’s service as a trade unionist spanned more than 50 years. He began as one of the founding members of the Singapore Union of Postal and Telecommunications Workers when it was formed in 1946. The union was officially registered in March 1947.6 In 1952, he appointed Lee Kuan Yew, then a young lawyer, as the union’s legal adviser upon the recommendation of John Laycock. That year, Lee represented the union and succeeded in obtaining better pay and conditions for the postal workers. In 1957, Kandasamy became the secretary-general of the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC). In 1959, he also founded AUPE and became its general secretary. The pro tem committee of AUPE had its first meeting on 6 September 1959, and a ceremonial launch was held on 26 September 1959.7
In the 1960s, Kandasamy led strikes to improve the pay and working conditions of nurses and other public employees.8 After the STUC was dissolved in 1961, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was formed later that same year with Kandasamy as a member in its pro tem committee. In 1965, he resigned as deputy secretary-general of the NTUC when the union backed the government’s disciplinary action against an AUPE unionist. However, he remained as a central committee member until 1991. In 1993, he was conferred the Comrade of Labour Award by the NTUC in honour of his contributions to the unions. In 1995, Kandasamy stepped down from the post of general secretary of AUPE, and became its senior adviser until his retirement in 1998.8
Besides the aforementioned unions, Kandasamy also served in other unions in capacities such as adviser and secretary-general. These include the Singapore Bank Employees’ Union and the Urban Redevelopment Authority Workers’ Union.9
As a tribute to Kandasamy for his untiring service and contributions to trade unions, a copper bust of the veteran trade unionist was installed at the second-floor lobby of the Wisma AUPE building in September 1999.10
In 1966, Kandasamy and his colleague T. Selvaganapathy rallied prominent Indians to set up a trust fund to help needy Indian students. Consequently, the Singapore Indian Education Trust Fund was inaugurated in 1967 with Kandasamy as its chairman. From 1978 to 1997, Kandasamy led the Tamils Representative Council (TRC) to look into the welfare of the Indian community. Kandasamy was also a trustee of the Singapore Indian Development Association. In 2000, the TRC relaunched the G. Kandasamy Education Trust Fund to carry on Kandasamy’s work of serving the needy.11
Kandasamy was married to a specialist nurse, Lim Kim Choo (m. 1971–d. 1990). They had two children: son Subhas Kim and daughter Shanti Kim. Kandasamy died of lung cancer on 20 March 1999 at the age of 78.12
1959–1963: Member of Parliament for Kampong Kapor
1959–1961: Deputy speaker, Legislative Assembly
1961–1963: Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture
Trade union appointments
1957–1961: Secretary-general, Singapore Trades Union Congress
1959–1995: General secretary, AUPE
1961–1991: Member, NTUC Central Committee
1995–1998: Senior adviser, AUPE
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
1. Ahmad Osman. (1999, March 22). Veteran trade unionist dies. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Lim, P. H. L. (1996). That fellow Kanda: Biography of G Kandasamy – 50 years a unionist. Singapore: The Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, pp. 84, 88. (Call no.: RSING 331.8811092 LIM)
3. Koh, B. S. (1996, September 22). G. Kandasamy – In a league of his own. The Straits Times. p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Koh, B. S. (1996, September 22). G. Kandasamy – In a league of his own. The Straits Times. p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. More than a firebrand unionist. (1999, March 22). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lim, P. H. L. (1996). That fellow Kanda: Biography of G Kandasamy – 50 years a unionist. Singapore: The Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, p. 98. (Call no.: RSING 331.8811092 LIM); Nirmala, M. (1999, March 23). Union leader had a soft side. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lim, P. H. L. (1996). That fellow Kanda: Biography of G Kandasamy – 50 years a unionist. Singapore: The Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, p. 132. (Call no.: RSING 331.8811092 LIM)
8. More than a firebrand unionist. (1999, March 22). The Straits Times. p. 33; Ahmad Osman. (1999, March 22). Veteran trade unionist. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Who’s who in new URA union. (1980, July 11). New Nation, p. 2; Stay out warning in bank dispute. (1961, May 16). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Tan, S. W. (2015, January 14). Welcome party for new members. Retrieved 2016, March 24 from Amalgamated Union of Public Employees website: http://www.aupe.org.sg/wps/wcm/connect/25c5990d-e8cb-4a68-ad42-d0eeae6f84ac/AUPE+Welcome+Party+for+new+members+on+28+Nov+2014_revised.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=25c5990d-e8cb-4a68-ad42-d0eeae6f84ac
11. Singapore Indian Education Trust. (n.d.). About us: Background. Retrieved 2016, March 29 from Singapore Indian Education Trust website: http://www.siet-trust.org.sg/about/
12. Riana Zakir. (1999, March 23). The Kanda love story. The New Paper, p. 7; Nirmala, M. (1999, March 23). Union leader had a soft side. The Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Times Editions, pp. 146–152.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS])
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.