Your Letters: SDP does not know the trade unions

Temasek Review
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The letter below has been submitted by Lim Kuok Seng, 48

national trades union congress NTUC MOM Singapore

The article by the SDP on trade unions in Singapore, as we have come to expect from the party today, is based on opinions rather than facts.

I will point out 3 key flaws.

Firstly, the SDP claims that “industrial action is prohibited under the law”. Clause 27(1) of the Trade Unions Act holds that “A registered trade union shall not commence, promote, organise or finance any strike or any form of industrial action affecting the whole or any section of its members without obtaining the consent, by secret ballot, of the majority of the members so affected.” It is thus, very legal for a strike to take place in Singapore once the consent of the majority of the members are sought. In line with the rest of the Act, majority would mean 50% + 1 person, which is reasonable since the strike will affect all workers, and a simple majority must be sought. The SMRT bus drivers did not get the consent of the majority and hence their strike was illegal. The Hydril workers got their simple majority and hence their strike was legal. Clear as night and day.


So clearly the SDP lied to Singaporeans about industrial action.

Secondly, the SDP accuses Singapore as one of the last few countries without a national minimum wage. Again, the SDP uses an opinion to fob the audience. Having a minimum wage or not is merely a tool. A country can choose to have a national minimum wage, a sectoral minimum wage, a sectoral collective agreement, a progressive wage model, a mandatory collective bargaining framework and many other wage systems. Not having a national minimum wage is not necessarily bad, just as having one is not necessarily good. Is a minimum wage the best tool to increase employment, wages and quality of life? The verdict is out there. Think about it: if minimum wage was the panacea of all labour troubles, why wouldn’t every country in the world legislate it?

In this article from Forbes, this was noted:

“Regarding the minimum wage, here is some data for Western Europe:

There are nine countries with a minimum wage (Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg). Their unemployment rates range from 5.9% in Luxembourg to 27.6% in Greece. The median country is France with 11.1% unemployment.

There are nine countries with no minimum wage (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland.) Five of the nine have a lower unemployment rate than Luxembourg, the best of the other group. The median country is Iceland, with a 5.5% unemployment rate. The biggest country in Europe is Germany. No minimum wage and 5.2% unemployment.”

In another article, a similar observation was noted:

There are seven European Union (E.U.) countries in which no minimum wage is mandated (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, and Sweden). If we compare the levels of unemployment in these countries with E.U. countries that impose a minimum wage, the results are clear. A minimum wage leads to higher levels of unemployment. In the 21 countries with a minimum wage, the average country has an unemployment rate of 11.8%. Whereas, the average unemployment rate in the seven countries without mandated minimum wages is about one third lower — at 7.9%.

And there are more articles out there. Is it true therefore that no minimum wage legislation is the best? Definitely not, but what is a fact is that every country needs to find the wage model that suits itself best, whether through national legislation, sectoral licensing or collective bargaining.


So clearly, the SDP lied to Singaporeans about minimum wages.

Lastly, the SDP claims that Singaporean workers do not have “the ability to freely organise themselves”. But SDP doesn’t know that Clause 14 (1)(c) of the Singapore Constitution, gives power to all citizens of Singapore to have the right to form associations. But there is a caveat. Under the same Article, clause 3: “Restrictions on the right to form associations conferred by clause (1) (c) may also be imposed by any law relating to labour or education.” So the right to form associations therefore cannot run afoul of the law, in this case, labour laws.

So let’s look at what the labour laws say, in relation to our ability to organise ourselves, which in layman speak, means forming unions to represent our interests at work. Under Clause 9 (1) of the Trade Unions Act, any 7 persons can sign the application form: “Every application for registration of any association or combination of workmen or employers as a trade union shall be made to the Registrar in the prescribed form and shall be signed by at least 7 members of the trade union, any of whom may be officers thereof.”

Under Clause 10 of the same Act, it is ordered that as long as the trade union is not registering to engage in unlawful purposes and is formed for the interest of workmen in a particular trade, it will be registered.

“If the Registrar is satisfied —

(a) that a trade union applying for registration has complied with the provisions of this Act;

(b) that the objects, rules and constitution of the trade union do not conflict with any of such provisions and are not unlawful and that such rules and constitution are not oppressive or unreasonable;

(c) that the trade union is not likely to be used for unlawful purposes or for purposes inconsistent with its objects and rules; and

(d) that, where the trade union is an association or combination of workmen in a particular trade, occupation or industry, it is not likely to be used against the interests of the workmen in that particular trade, occupation or industry,

the Registrar may register the trade union in the prescribed manner.”


Any Singaporean worker can form a trade union to represent himself and his co-workers once they meet the requirements of finding 7 workers from a trade, occupation or industry.



So clearly, the SDP lied to Singaporeans about our freedom to organize.

With such absurd distortions of the truth, it is clear that the SDP wrote the article in a hurry without even going through a basic fact search. It is seeking to score a quick political point against the PAP and uses baseless opinions, a la The Real Singapore’s foreign editors, to raise anger amongst Singaporeans against the PAP government.

Anyone aiming to lead the country must be able to argue his case based on firm facts and clear policy thinking. A leadership comprising of pseudo scholars and charlatans touting distorted opinions intended to lie and mislead will just bring Singapore down. SDP must choose what it wants to be if it aims to be credible.

Meanwhile, to all netizens – be your own judge. Research the facts and then form your own opinion.




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