How will you be celebrating Labour Day?


Are you going to Malaysia for a holiday? Maybe Bangkok? …perhaps Bali?

For many people around the world, the 1st of May is a day marked by strikes, demonstrations and protests. It is a day when unions around the world move to push their agenda across.

Industrial action is an improportionate weapon to use. Once executed, no one wins. The company is forced to comply, their customers suffer and ultimately if there it doesn’t make good business sense to accede to union demands, eventually the company will fold and everyone loses their jobs.

Already in 2016 alone, four very crippling strikes took place around the world, we ought to learn a thing or two from these:


England: Education Employees strike


On Wednesday 24th of February 2016, Members of the University and College Union (UCU) and UNISON in further education colleges in England will be taking strike action on Wednesday 24 February in a row over pay.

Staff are angry that the employers’ representatives, the Association of Colleges, recommended a pay freeze, despite staff suffering a real-terms pay cut of 17.1% in the last five years. UCU members walked out in November as part of the dispute and put up picket lines.


Australia: Airport Border Control strikes

airport strike australia

On the 4th of April, the Immigration Department of Australia went on strike over pay and working conditions. This happened over the period of the Brussels ISIS attacks. The Australian Fair Work Commission successfully secured an interim order to stop the strikes. They explained that the strike could leave Australian borders open to terrorists, drug traffickers, child sex offenders and illicit cargo pouring into the country’s borders.


England: Doctor’s strikes

junior doctor strike uk

Junior doctors’ leaders are objecting to the prospect of a new contract in England. The rest of the details are a little complex for foreign readers like us, but what it means is that the junior doctors had went on strike, leaving the rest of the medical team in place to manage the country’s patients.


Hong Kong: Newspaper strike threat

HK strike newspaper

Journalists from Chinese-language daily Ming Pao threatened to take industrial action after the management refused to withdraw the controversial decision to fire its well-respected No 2 editor.

So here there were strikes attacking a country’s national security, healthcare (even emergency healthcare), education and in the case of Hong Kong, a threat to strike over a company’s right to hire and fire.


I understand if an industrial action was performed as an act of last resort, but have these unions throughly exhausted all means of dispute management? All forms of arbitration? All forms of negotiation and reconciliation? Was there a need to put a people into unnecessary danger?

These incidences may likely become fewer though. Many are learning that strikes are destructive to employment relationships and do more harm than good. The trend now at the International Labour Organisation, is a move towards what they call “Social Partnerships”. In Singapore, we call it “tripartism”.

In the words of Guy Ryder, “Tripartism works – if you work at it. And it is encouraging that that message is being taken on board in other regions”.

Here in Singapore, our unions are mindful and very careful about their right to strike. They don’t exercise it short of exhausting every option – even to the extent of lobbying the government to change laws.

To us, jobs are very important. And jobs are conceived when corporations thrive. As long as these are in balance and there is a government mindful of preserving this harmonious balance – there is little need for our unions to take the route of a strike.

About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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