Why you should care about local labour politics…

labour force

national trades union congress NTUC MOM Singapore

Earlier this year, the National Trades Union Congress announced that it would be organising its National Delegates Conference.

Why should we be concerned?

To start with, issues about manpower and labour is not just the domain of the Ministry of Manpower alone. Sure, they make the policies and the laws. However, Singapore’s labour market is one that is very lightly regulated.

Employers are pretty much free to conduct their business, without a strong labour movement, this can bode ill for workers.

To reap all the benefits for our workers require a delicate relationship with employers. Strikes and arbitration courts represent a breakdown of this relationship. Where there is breakdown, there is deadlock and neither party gets what they want.

“Being pro business does not mean anti worker. It is businesses that hire people. And many SMEs are run by normal, hardworking Singaporeans”, said business leader Calvin Cheng in a Facebook post.

calvin cheng

“Sometimes I hear arguments that go along the lines of ‘let the business collapse’. When a business collapses, Singaporean jobs are lost.
Let’s not go down the road of other countries where loony leftists agitate the masses to think of businesses as the enemy of working people”, he continued to explain.

It is for this reason that the NTUC plays an important counter weight to private employers, with enough political power to use where the Ministry of Manpower cannot.


The National Delegates Conference.

NTUC holds this conference once every four years. This is where the leadership of the NTUC would be elected – (including the new Secretary General, Chan Chun Sing).


Delegates (elected union leaders) will take part in the elections and they collectively chose the new 21-member NTUC Central Committee (NTUC CC) for the four-year term 2015-2019.

The national delegate conference is also NTUC’s “parliament”, bringing together Delegates from across the multitude of unions to decide collectively on the policies and priorities for the next four years. Together Delegates from NTUC’s affiliated unions and associations will formulate policies, initiatives and programmes to help workers at work, live and play, and to contribute towards Singapore’s economic and social progress.

The NTUC CC, which holds office for a four-year term, is the planning, policy and executive organ of NTUC. It makes all decisions and actions it deems fit to further NTUC’s objectives and subject to the overriding authority of the Delegates’ Conference, have all powers of the Delegates’ Conference.


(A previous NTUC CC)


At the NDC 2011, 23 union leaders vyed for 21 seats in the new NTUC CC. At the conference, reiterated its reposition to be “an inclusive Labour Movement for All CAN (Collars, Ages and Nationalities) of workers”. With this, it fought for workers, union members and unions by helping to keep Singapore’s unemployment rate low, increasing unionisation rate, growing membership and implementing leadership renewal.

2011 also called for the focus was on addressing the three divides in society: widening income gap, ageing workforce, and local and foreign workforce.

It is not certain what this year’s Conference will raise. Recession is looming on the horizon, businesses are shutting down because of the lack of manpower and labour costs are rising. Tripartism would surely continue to be at the forefront as it is our only political tool to preserve industrial harmony. Union Delegates would probably speak to take stock of the SG50 celebrations, consider the implications of the recent General Elections and reflect on society’s changing needs.

A new leadership will be facing new challenges that require a fresh approach. I’ll be watching their Conference with much interest.




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