If you’ve ever been bullied at work, victimised, had an a$$hole of a boss or thought that your salary was going nowhere… you might want to do just a bit more research into what the “Labour Movement” is and what the unions do.
In a few days, the National Trades Union Congress will be electing their leadership and its effects will trickle down to what you do at your workplace and how employment laws/policies will be governed.
At this point, you might find it news to know that: the NTUC is not a government body, it is not a ministry, it is not part of the civil service and neither is it a “government linked company”.
Here are some questions I have frequently heard about the Congress:
Why does this NTUC stuff matter to me?
If you have had something to say about the employment situation, wages and foreign manpower and have complained that “no one is listening”, the unions are the grassroots of where all things labour happen in Singapore. This is where you make yourself heard and where you have a say in how political powers move to make things happen.
Ok…what do the unions do?
They represent the workers of Singapore. You need to sit in one of the union meetings. These meetings can be boisterous, emotional and strong words are thrown about. These meetings have been the starting point for many new policies and regulations to be enacted: protection of low wage workers, progressive wage model and so on.
What else happens at this National Delegate’s Conference?
The NDC is NTUC’s national election and this occurs every four years. They use this platform also to chart the direction of how they want Singapore’s entire Labour business and direction for the next four years. Are we going to have more/less foreigners? How else are we going to help the low wages? How else can our salaries be improved? Are the employers working for the benefit of Singapore? …these are some of the things that are discussed for implementation at the NDC.
The NTUC is not (technically) a union.
It is a central body to align unions together. Its business (according to their constitution) is to serve as the national center of the trade union movement, uphold the freedom of association with trade unions and to promote a democratic, socialist society and to resist anywhere and everywhere the economic and social exploitation of man by man.
Unions do not need to be part of the NTUC
Unions are independent, control their own budgets and have no need to be a part of the NTUC. The Airline Pilots Association is one example of a union that doesn’t want anything to do with the Congress.
(Despite historical friction, the ALPA-S turned up at the NTUC building for Lee Kuan Yew’s send off)
The leadership of NTUC sits at its Central Committee
Yes, NTUC chiefs are elected and the people that steer this entire machinery all have to be elected from the ground up. This includes the Secretary General, Chan Chun Sing.
If Chan Chun Sing loses the NTUC election, what happens?
He will quite likely have to resign. There is a possibility that a person who has failed to get elected to the NTUC Central Committee can be “co-opted” as a Secretary General, but this is unlikely to happen. If a person has failed to gain the support of voters, he will not have the legitimacy to run the show. This has happened in 1982 with Lim Chee Onn. In fact, Lim took it as personal failure and resigned from politics completely.
So I can be in the leadership ranks of the NTUC too?
Yes you can! There’s no educational qualification, nor other pre-requisits required. All you need to do is demonstrate your worth: how good are you at pulling people together? How vocal are you? How are you able to get people to rally behind you? Are you able to negotiate with management? What can you contribute to the labour movement?…to start, all you need to do is to join a union and get involved in their activities.
Please tell me why are PAP MPs in the NTUC ranks?
Let’s be completely honest here. If the NTUC did not have representation in Parliament (or the Government Cabinet), would we have any real power to get anything done? We’d probably be reduced to a body that’s just protesting and striking all day long. We have Hong Lim Park, what good has that brought us?
Why won’t my employers tell me all this?!
Most employers don’t really want unions to get involved in their companies. Why? Because when a union is there, they have more work to do. They don’t have the complete freedom to set their contracts, their benefits or how their HR would run their show. They have to seek the consensus of a union.