Rebuttal: Workers at the mercy of corporations

Temasek Review
your letters

I’d like to draw your attention to this article produced on “where bears roam free”. For some reason, the writer decided to delete his own article from the site. Nverthless, I shall reproduce it here and my comments to this article are embedded within.

I shall make my comments under the name of “Z”.


Workers at the mercy of corporations – time to amend the outdated law

at 07:22:00 by Barrie

This article is dedicated to my fellow blogger, Gintai, the tireless SMRT worker who at one stage, gave us much insight what the mechanism of SMRT is like on the ground.

Z: I also enjoyed Gintai’s blog – whilst although I do not agree with most of his writings, Gintai was careful not to make misrepresentations as much as this article did.


When Dragon Lee Kuan Yew came to power, he made sure that the very unions he helped, which Lim Chin Siong used to bring mayhem to the Brit rulers, were incapacitated. He did that so that the very unions he helped won’t be able to do to him what they did to the Brit rulers. 

 Dirty “Make My Day” Harry Lee. He helped Lim Chin Siong to use the unions in the 1950s to create mayhem for the Brit govt. Then he helped the Brit govt and Tunku turn against Lim in the early 1960s. Then he further crippled the unions’ power when he finally took charge. They don’t call him Dirty Harry for nuthin’, yer know.


Z: It is confusing what the writer is trying to say here, but let’s have a look at some historical context first: Lim, together with the Barisan had their own tool for manipulating the unions: the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). The PAP, with the help of Devan Nair, set up a (then very weak) National Trades Union Congress. When SATU failed, the NTUC absorbed the unions under them into their fold.


What made me decide to write this article –

Gintai, the SMRT blogger had his services terminated recently. You can read it here – Reflections on my termination. This set me thinking about how easy it is for anyone of us to lose our jobs just like that.


Z: Yes, anyone can lose their jobs easily – that is why you must remind your boss each day why he is still hiring you. That’s life, and it’s fair. Deal with it.

You are also jumping to conclusions about Gintai’s sacking. Gintai himself had made no comment about it all – so maybe you should too.


Gintai has served SMRT 18 years. Yet, with just one month’s pay as compensation, the company decided to terminate his services. He states in his blog that it was due to medical reasons. This got me to think the following:

1. Any company can simply choose to terminate your services with just one month’s pay in lieu of notice.

2. More importantly, what can the union do?


Z: It is in the employment act that yes, a company can simply chose to terminate your services with just one month’s pay in lieu of notice.

The unions can help you negotiate for the benefits that are owed to you.


In most companies, the agreement between employer and employee is that either party can serve one month’s notice for termination of service. Either that, or you give one month’s pay in lieu of. Hence, if the employee gives a 24 hour notice, he forgoes one month’s pay. If the employer gives a 24 hour notice, the employer gives the employee one months’ pay.

I have thought about how easy it is for companies (even unionised ones) in Singapore to terminate the services of it employees. Even employees who may have had 20 or 30 years of service. All that is needed is a letter of notice or pay in lieu of that. Usually, it is one month, because that’s the agreement most companies have with their employees, when it comes to termination of services.


Z: That is why you should join a union.


The above was lingering in my mind about 20 years ago. But at that time, there was a labour crunch and hence, no one really had to suffer much because it was usually the employee rather than employer who gave termination of service notice. But even if it was the rare case where the employer gave notice, the employee would have had no problems getting a new (and perhaps even better paying) job, simply because at that time, there was a labour crunch.

It is different today. Today, if you have your services terminated (like Gintai) and you are in your mid career, it is very difficult to find another job that pays you as much. This brings up another point which I have been thinking about – what can the unions do to protect such people?


Z: Does the writer think there is no labour crunch today? 


Unfortunately, nothing much. Yes, due to some draconian and outdated law which was passed decades ago, there is nothing unions can do much today. Isn’t it time for the law to be changed to reflect the current situation? I doubt so. I think the PAPpy govt will simply let this outdated law carry on its effect.

Unions have been incapacitated, no thanks to Dirty Harry Lee –

Below is the Industrial Relations Act. It governs the relations between unions and employers. Take a look at what the unions cannot do.


Z: Before delving into the Industrial Relations Act, one must remember that unions, are traditionally hooligans. And striking is an outdated tool. Unions don’t have to bother how poorly your business is doing, nor do they care – as long as they manage to create enough trouble. They just have to show paying members they are doing “work”.

(Editor: It has also been mentioned on this magazine, 98% of union contracts in the United States are settled each year without a strike)



(Section 18)

(2) Notwithstanding subsection (1), no trade union of employees may include in a notice setting out proposals for a collective agreement a proposal in relation to any of the following matters: 

(a) the promotion by an employer of any employee from a lower grade or category to a higher

grade or category;

(b) the transfer by an employer of an employee within the organisation of an employer’s profession, business, trade or work, provided that such transfer does not entail a change to the detriment of an employee in regard to his terms of employment;

(c) the employment by an employer of any person that he may appoint in the event of a vacancy arising in his establishment;

(d) the termination by an employer of the services of an employee by reason of redundancy or by reason of the reorganisation of an employer’s profession, business, trade or work or the criteria for such termination;

 Technically, any employer can simply use Section 18(2d) to terminate any employee’s service, and that decision is out of the union’s purview. Yes, you got that right. I deliberately embedded the PDF above so that you can see for yourself that I did in no way misquote the Industrial Relations Act.


Z: All this simply mean that we do not infringe on the employer’s rights in a Collective Agreement.

Employers also have their own set of rights – the right to hire and fire, the right to promote and demote, the right to raise salaries. They have their rights as long as they pursue it fairly. 

 If it is not fair, then unions have our rights to industrial arbitration.The writer will agree with me that we live in a gentleman’s society and our rights do not infringe on the other.

It is strange why the writer did not include the sections where the unions have a right in: to negotiate for overtime, retrenchment benefits, leaves etc.

He also left out the recourse to action when unfair termination happens. With the clout and arbitration tools that the union has – the unions can actually do a lot to errant employers.


Another point about the Industrial Relations Act is that it puts up barriers to staging strikes. The Act spells out that you have to get the Minister (in this case Manpower Minister) for approval, before you can strike. Ha ha. As if he would approve. Hence, any strike you take without His Majesty’s permission is considered illegal – and criminal. Remember the China nationals who went on strike in the SMRT drivers vs company dispute?


Z: The Minister approved of the Hydril Pte Ltd strike in 1986. Ha ha.


In fact, the above case was illegal on two counts. Firstly, they failed to seek the permission of the Minister to go on strike. Secondly, being public bus drivers, they are considered part of essential services. According to PAPpy Law, essential service workers shalt not go on strike because if they do, they can paralyse the nation’s infrastructure.


Z: Just like PAPpy law, many countries in the world also have legislation on strikes by essential services. For example in the UK, armed forces, health practitioners, civil servants, police and Parliamentary staff all have procedures and exemptions from industrial action.


Back to Gintai’s case –

Other than Gintai’s note in his blog that his termination was one of medical nature, we do not know anything else. SMRT and its union are also silent. As such, we cannot come to any conclusion what transpired. Perhaps maybe one of the three parties would speak more on the subject later. Only then would we have more info. But if all three parties decide to remain silent, we will just have to accept that as their choice.


Z: SMRT and the Unions are silent as Gintai also has his rights to privacy. Do you actually want the whole world to know what transpired? Especially if it is information against Gintai and his future employment prospects? 


Conclusion –

Unions in Singapore are nothing more than eunuchs. It serves members well as a family type organisation. You have family gatherings, cheap rates for chalets etc. But as a labour organisation where your needs are to be protected from employer abuse, that’s another story altogether.

The law in Singapore is designed such. It was deliberately done so by none other than Dirty Harry Lee. He knew how potent the unions can be when it is used against the govt. He was part of the rebel group. As such, when he himself came into power, he had to make sure that the unions are crippled – so that it could never be used against him.


Z: The writer is biased and deeply resents the ex Minister Mentor, and that is the gist of what his article was about. He does not have understanding of the industrial action, industrial arbitration, the labour movement and is ill advised to write on matters relating to workers rights.

Let’s get this right: The PAP does not make laws, parliament does. And parliament is not made up of PAP alone.

Also, the author does not understand the segregation of powers as vested by the Singapore constitution between the Executive (PM and his government), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (the court apparatus).


If you actually have an issue with your employer, I suggest you contact the NTUC or the MOM for professional opinion.






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