Are the unions of Singapore in a sorry state?

The article below is submitted to us by a Jennifer Hoe, 32, executive and union member.

national trades union congress NTUC MOM Singapore

(Tripartite partners from the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trade Union Congress at the May Day Rally 2012. Photo credit: NTUC)


So yes, our national confederation of trade unions bought ad space to tell the world how they advocate for workers rights. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) have bought airtime to advertise against discrimination. Even NTUC Fairprice has taken out advertisements to tell people about new queues at their counters to celebrate the Pioneer Generation.

The overall mood of the NTUC is one of happiness and positiveness. It talks more about “care”, and “opportunities” and “fairness” rather than “fights” and “strikes” and “wage war” – like how the career protestors do at Hong Lim Park.

It is so much so that people assume that the NTUC doesn’t “care” about workers because they don’t talk about the nasty things that happen on the ground.

And just because the chief of the unions is also a cabinet minister, then he doesn’t want to enforce minimum wage or call for a strike.


Perhaps the NTUC of today is too quiet

Behind closed doors, it is very noisy. I’ve been to one before – where union officials are negotiating with our employers. I’ve also had the good opportunity to see court action when our union brought the dispute with the employer to court.

All this nastiness is against the Asian principal of “face”. Once “face” is lost, then faith is broken. No employer would want to work with unions openly ever again. So despite disagreements and failed negotiations, unions do not want to publicly humiliate their companies. It benefits no one to do that. A lawsuit over failed negotiations is not as exciting as say, a strike that cripples Singapore’s MRT system, so it’s no wonder that the press doesn’t report the times when the union brings employers to court.


Maybe they don’t know marketing
The progressive wage model is technically Singapore’s solution to minimum wage. It has a wage base similar to the minimum wage, but it is also tied to productivity, skills and a career ladder. It doesn’t cover all sectors now (as of Jan 2015 it covers the cleaning and security sector), but there’s nothing to stop it from moving on to other sectors over the years (similar to Australia’s industry-based minimum wage).

The point here is, to most netizens in Singapore a rose by any other name WOULDN’T smell as sweet.

If the NTUC had just said that they were implementing a sectoral minimum wage that is also tied to upgrading of skills etc. and chill everyone we will tweak it as we go along because hello we’re only 50 years old, look at Australia they’ve had 100 years to do it and they are still tweaking it as they go along, reception to the PWM might have been warmer than it has been.

It’s like when you were young and you saw that all your classmates had a Sega Mega Drive and you wanted one too but your mom bought you a Playstation and because it’s new, you’ve never heard of it and you HATE IT TO THE VERY CORE OF YOUR BEING BECAUSE IT’S NOT A SEGA! But if your mom had introduced it as almost like a Sega just with better graphics and games and whatever, you probably would have been a little more receptive towards it.


Their leaders are just too polite
In the past, namely the 60s and 70s, although the general mindset revolved around nation building, bringing the country out of the depths of third world (making Singaporeans quite homogenous then), unionists of the past wouldn’t take the government’s shit and they let them know it.

Even if at the end of the day, they recognised the need for unity and working as a collective, during parliamentary debates, it wasn’t uncommon to hear unionists like Ho See Beng telling the government in what can only be loosely translated as “yea sure I get that you have the big picture in mind but still, balls to you my friend”.

These days, parliamentary debates are really gentle and polite, like the never-ending cycle of saying thank you to a taxi driver from the moment he drops you at your location to when you are paying him the fare to when he is returning you your change to when you are packing your wallet into your bag to when you are exiting his cab.

Contrary to what some think, the NTUC is not in a need of rehabiliating its image. The old ways of “fighting” employers is outdated and primitive. Around the world, tripartism is virtually impossible to implement. Like walking a Jack Russel on dental floss. Here in Singapore it works, and pseudo intellectuals who think they’ve got it all figured out want all these dissassembled.

It is funny how some people who have never been in the system, seem to think they know a lot about the system.





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