ONE of Singapore's biggest employers' groups is getting a new chief: Dr Robert Yap, 62, a veteran of the local logistics industry.

He will take over as Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president on Sept 1, after Mr Stephen Lee, 67, steps down from the post after 26 years.

The passing of the baton comes with the national economic restructuring effort in full swing.

Since he was elected as SNEF president in 1988, Mr Lee, who is also chairman of Singapore Airlines, has "worked tirelessly" to strengthen employers' partnership with the Government and the labour movement, said SNEF in a statement yesterday.

Labour unions and the Government also paid tribute to Mr Lee, who has been involved in labour relations since 1977, when he began serving in SNEF's predecessor, the National Employers Council.

Mr Lee has also been on the National Wages Council since 1978 - its longest-serving member.

He said: "When I became involved in the work of the National Employers Council in 1977 at 30 years of age, I could not have imagined that I would stay in this area of work for 37 years. It has been a very rewarding and rich experience for me."

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin thanked Mr Lee for his efforts in building stronger relations between employers, workers and the Government.

"In his own unique ways, he has helped shape the tripartism model as a centrepiece of our economic competitiveness," he said.

"His contributions to industrial peace and harmony and to the economic progress of Singapore cannot be overstated."

The labour unions also praised Mr Lee for always "adopting a fair and balanced approach when managing major issues that had great impact on both businesses and workers".

Mr Lee worked with unions and helped steer companies through four economic downturns, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) noted in a statement signed by its secretary-general Lim Swee Say and president Diana Chia.

It said: "During economic crises, he worked closely with unions and tripartite partners and urged managements to take the difficult but necessary lead in cutting their own wages first to save costs."

Both the Government and the NTUC said they look forward to working with Dr Yap, 62, the chairman and chief executive of home-grown supply chain management company YCH Group.

Dr Yap said that the country has benefited from peaceful and harmonious labour relations.

"Global competition is intense and we have to constantly innovate and increase productivity to stay ahead," he said.