While many other unions around the world face declining membership numbers, Singapore’s union membership numbers continue to rise. In 2014, the unionisation rate of the Singapore resident workforce grew to 27%. Contrastingly, the unionisation rate in the United States was 11.3% in 2013.
But why should workers in Singapore continue to join unions in the face of global declining unionisation rates?
Here’s one good reason: Care for workers
In a society where everyone looks towards earning a better pay and progression in their careers, there is a group of workers who are stuck in the rut and struggle to survive in a fast-paced economy – low-wage workers.
But who understands the plight of these workers and helps them?
The NTUC as the sole trades union congress in Singapore does just that. Helping to improve the lives of low-wage workers to meet the rising costs of living.
Better work, Better Pay
At a media briefing on 22 July 2015, NTUC Assistant Secretary General Zainal Sapari, who is Director of the U Care Centre (UCC) and the Care and Share Department shared the ongoing efforts of the labour movement to help better the lives of low-income workers such as through the deepening of the Progressive Wage Model and expanding the network and reach of the support targeted at low-wage workers through the U Care Centre’s collaboration with various organisations.
As a result of the UCC’s efforts, the lowest 20th percentile of the workforce saw real wage increases in the last 5 years.
An estimated 74,500 low-wage workers will see themselves benefit from better skills and better pay resulting from increased productivity and enhanced career progression pathways.
“As a labour movement, it is in our DNA to really look after the low-wage workers,” shared Mr Zainal at the media briefing.
Helping to meet costs of living
Care for the low-income union members also come in the form of the NTUC-U Care Fund which consolidates the labour movement’s fundraising efforts to better the lives of low-income union members and their families.
More than $80 million has been raised to help the union members and their families to cope with costs of living through various assistance programmes since the fund’s inception in 2009.
This year, more than $11.2 million was raised surpassing the initial 2015 target of $10.5 million, with slightly more than $500,000 coming from donations made in memory of the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The U Care Fund is disbursed through the U Stretch Vouchers, Back-to-School Vouchers which help to mitigate the rising costs of living, bursaries and scholarships for the children of union members, as well as tickets for lower-income union members to enjoy selected facilities at Downtown East.
Without all these efforts to help, the low-income workers in our country will inevitably remain in the same situation for years or even generations.
Thankfully, the labour movement, together with its various government agency partners continue to do more to improve the lives of these group of workers.
“To me, the Acid Test for a labour movement is really what are you doing to help workers at the bottom. No point for us to claim that our workers are earning good wages, good salaries but then we have union members at the bottom who are not getting the necessary kind of support, the necessary kind of assistance…”
– Zainal Sapari, NTUC Assistant Secretary General.
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