So you think you don’t need to join a union?

 

If you ask any one of your friends if he or she is in a union, you’re likely to be greeted with the following answers:

– “Har? Union? Simi lai eh?

– “Singapore got union one meh?”

In the world of labour relations, the beef of employees are matters of industrial disputes, abject exploitation and unfairness. Although Singapore enjoys a lot of industrial peace, it should not be taken for granted it will always be this way.

When employers want to “play punk”, they have many, many ways to do so – and they can squirm around the law, keeping legal.. but leaving you worse off. It is because of this basic reason, you should sign-up as a union member, regardless of whether or not your company is unionised.

Consider these common means employers usually use:

– Ask you to resign,

– Make your job scope redundant,

– Reduce your job responsibilities,

My friend John was working in a pharmaceuticals plant. They’ve recently lost a key client and his department is effectively redundant. However, instead of retrenching, the company pretty much left them alone for a month, giving them little responsibilities. One by one, John’s colleagues resigned from boredom.

Very convenient – now the company doesn’t need to pay retrenchment benefits. If John and his colleagues were union members, the Branch Officials would intervene and wrestle some rights for them. Prevent them from being bullied like this.

Granted – the unions in Singapore don’t behave like their Western counterparts. But it doesn’t mean that they’re toothless.  As a weapon of last resort, Singapore unions can do two things: take a company to arbitration, or call for a strike. We will share more stories of strikes, and near strikes in recent history in the future.

Consider this – there are some 200k registered business and companies in Singapore. How many strikes, protests and management disputes do you think this island can handle?

If you have to be nasty each time before a company will raise pay and better your benefits, that’s not only emotionally tiring… it’s not productive either. Isn’t a better way to do this, to force Government, Corporations and Unions to get their act together, to work together? Tripartism.

Tripartism is another word we’ve heard so often, we’ve forgotten what it actually means. Many, many countries desire for industrial peace like us, to get the three parties to co-operate rather than fight. Yet, because everyone’s rights need to be preserved, this cannot happen for them.

It is because of a one-party system that Singapore is able to oblige all parties to co-operate. Through this, wages, benefits, rights and labour fairness is able to be preserved and lifted systematically without the need for dispute.

Is this against the Western philosophy of human rights? You can argue it is. But the proof of the pudding, is experienced in the fact that Singaporeans are better off economically than we were at any period of time in history. And progressively getting better.

Unions in Singapore have progressed beyond little skirmishes with employers. Read about the 1969 Modernisation Seminar of the NTUC. In short, the unions have a share of how the nation is run. They are now agents of change. They are collectively known as the Labour Movement of Singapore.

Some of the most recent work the labour movement include the annual revision of wages via the National Wages Council. Lifting of wages via the Progressive Wage Model. Protecting our labour market from unnecessary foreign influx through the Fair Considerations Framework. Even built in protection of workers by enshrining demands into the Employment Act.

For people like you and me, it is still important to join the union.

When employers make their move, we’re usually the last to know. We’re the most vulnerable, with little decisions how directors and managers want to move their corporate chess pieces and we need a strong labour body to assure us of our rights.

 

 

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About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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