Sexual offences and workplace abuse have one thing in common…


…Many go unreported.

I have read Chan Chun Sing’s report about Singapore’s “unusual” labour movement and I have to say I wondered a little about why he wrote that piece. To tell us that the engines of our corporate/labour relations are humming and buzzing smoothly? I don’t think anyone would disagree.

No observer of Singaporean economics would miss the country’s unique approach towards labour relations.

Very few countries can achieve the level of tripartism like we have. Say what you like about our non-strike policies but you cannot dismiss the fact that wages and high employment are the hallmarks of corporate Singapore. There is nothing to complain about when it comes to observable, measurable KPIs the labour movement has set out to achieve.

We’re very successful at measuring and driving numbers.

From Chan’s article, I understand that 70% of our workforce work in SMEs. From his article I understand that 25 MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) have been signed, covering 20,070 workers across 1197 companies. From his article I even know there are 3 Us in the word “Unusual”.

But what about the stuff that cannot be measured?

I’d like the NTUC to share with us – how is the health and heartbeat of our labour force? How are our grievances addressed? How is justice being done and seen to be done? I want to understand the stuff that is unreported.

I’d like to understand discrimination.

Race, nationality, age, sex, sexual preference and child bearing status are characteristics being discriminated by employers. It exists, we know it exists…but we don’t know to what extent it is being practiced in the workforce.

I’d like to understand employee treatment.

Isolating employees, ridiculing them, making them do work that they’re not employed to do, verbal abuse, denial of benefit without good reason, invasion of privacy… these are all forms of ill treatment in the workforce.

I’d like to know about unethical practices.

Withholding salaries, insisting on work done after office hours, unilaterally changing contract terms, termination without due procedure. How is our Labour Movement acting to prevent these?

There is a parallel between sexual offences and workplace abuse. These practices go unreported because victims quietly accept their fate. This goes on because sometimes the victims blame themselves and mostly because they believe that the employer has so much power, it will affect their future employability.

There is no need to convince me Singapore is well managed. I know that already. Our unions have achieved what many countries are struggling to – true social co-operation for the benefit of all. However, it is erroneous to say that there is nothing wrong in the labour landscape simply because we have good fortune and salaries.

There is an evil that goes unreported, undiscussed and understudied in corporate Singapore. Perhaps if we want a highly motivated workforce, we ought to act on these as well.


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