On May 24, an article was published in The Straits Times on the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and its commitment to the workers of Singapore. Only it didn’t seem to be a proper article; it was shared on both Twitter and Facebook with an “advertorial” disclaimer. Closer inspection found that it was part of a series of articles and videos featured on The Straits Times’ website, “brought to you by NTUC.”
Yup. Our national confederation of trade unions bought ad space to assure people that it cares about the workers it represents.
This comes after it emerged that although bus drivers from the privatized public transport company SMRT received a wage increase, their work week was also changed from a five-day to a six-day week. A number of bus drivers sent an email to the press (including alternative websites) pointing out that the additional day’s work completely undermined any pay increase they were supposed to receive. The bus drivers — who chose to remain anonymous — also expressed unhappiness that their union had not helped them.
In TODAYonline’s article, the changes were supported and defended by NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Ong Ye Kung. The next day, the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU) signaled their support for the change by coming forward to explain the new pay framework.
Although unions in Singapore have for years been criticized for neglecting the demands and voices of workers, this episode with SMRT and its bus drivers revived an outpouring of frustration and anger towards NTUC.
However, the May 24 advertorial insisted that NTUC was not a “toothless body,” and asserted that the unions had occasionally threatened employers with strikes.
Striking in Singapore
Singapore has been mostly strike-free for years. The last major strike came from the shipping industry in 1986, after then-President Ong Teng Cheong sanctioned it without informing the Cabinet. The issue was resolved within two days, but President Ong’s actions angered certain Cabinet members. Since then, strikes — other than the occasional ones carried out by migrant workers — have been more or less unheard of in the city-state.
Strikes and lock-outs in essential services — such as public transport services, broadcasting services and civil defense services — are covered under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. Workers in gas, electricity and water services are prohibited from striking, whilst others are not allowed to strike unless at least 14 days’ notice has been given, or while official conciliation proceedings are pending.
The Trade Disputes Act goes further, outlawing industrial action if:
a. it has any other object than the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the persons taking part in the industrial action are engaged;
b. it is in furtherance of a trade dispute of which an Industrial Arbitration Court has cognizance; or
c. it is designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community.
The penalty for participating in illegal industrial action can either come in the form of a fine of up to S$2,000 (approx. US$1,588) or imprisonment for a period of up to six months.
Singapore also has strict laws regarding protests and demonstrations, and all “cause-related activities” are governed under the Public Order Act. A single person can be considered to constitute an illegal assembly if he or she does not have a police permit to carry out the activity.
All these laws come together to make industrial action a difficult option. For the average worker, the possibility of trying to initiate a strike is slim. And although NTUC said in its advertorial that they have threatened strikes before, this may come as a surprise to Singaporean workers. Despite all the grievances of working Singaporeans, there have been no union-led strikes for over 20 years, and decisions — such as the decision to adjust the pay and workdays of the SMRT bus drivers — are often made unilaterally, and the workers informed afterwards.
Tripartism, or just plain conflict of interest?
Singapore has adopted the model of tripartism, where the government steps in to intervene and mediate between employers and employees. The Tripartite partners of Singapore are the Ministry of Manpower, NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).
The original idea behind tripartism was to prevent disruptions and nasty disagreements between workers and their bosses, but has since become a cause for concern with regard to conflicts of interest, where the same person ends up wearing lots of different hats when he or she should just have the one.
Case in point: NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Ong Ye Kung is the executive secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union. But he is also a board member of SMRT Corporation. On top of that, he is also a member of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), and stood as a candidate in the 2011 general election (although he didn’t get into parliament).
So, to sum up: a union leader is also on the board of the profit-driven company that employs the very public transport workers he is meant to represent, and also a member of the party that forms the current government. He is Tripartite all in himself!
And it isn’t just him: union members are sometimes tapped to stand as candidates for the PAP in elections. Some even go on to become government ministers.
Lim Swee Say, currently a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, shuffles between union and government. He was the deputy secretary-general of NTUC from 1997 − 1999, until he left to become the Minister for Trade and Industry. Five years and two other ministerial portfolios later, he was back to being the deputy secretary-general of NTUC again. In 2007 he became the secretary-general of NTUC, and holds the post until today.
Although the government would hold this up as an example of successful tripartism, many Singaporeans see this as a situation where ministers, union leaders and employers work together to forward their own interests at the expense of the ordinary Singaporean. Critics have often pointed out the many conflicts of interest that arise from such a porous system — how can the union leader speak for the employees when he is also on the board of the company, or part of the government that pushes through economic policies that do not help the working class?
Why do you smile so much?
In the advertorial in The Straits Times, NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General Cham Hui Foong said that the trade unions had “teeth” and that they could “choose to bite or give a smile.”
Which then begs the question: why do you smile so much?
Perhaps trade unions do speak up a lot for the workers in closed-door meetings. But the discussions or actions taken by the unions in these meetings aren’t often made public. People can only judge by what they see, which does not always inspire the most confidence.
When top economists such as Lim Chong Yah and Yeoh Lam Keong spoke out about Singapore’s growing income equality and recommended structural changes to prepare for the future, NTUC Secretary-General Lim Swee Say disagreed and took the government’s stance.
Recently the National Wage Council (part of NTUC) recommended that the wages of low-income workers be increased by at least S$50 a month. However, critics have pointed out that it is much less than the wage restructuring proposed by Professor Lim Chong Yah, and that such a small increase is unlikely to help low-income workers deal with inflation, which has hit 5.4 percent.
Whenever the issue of the minimum wage is raised, union leaders hasten to say that it is not the solution for Singapore. Like the government, they emphasize increasing productivity or additional skills training to, in the words of Lim Swee Say, build a “cheaper, better, faster” economy.
Perceptions of the NTUC
In early May I tweeted:
Usually you join unions for collective bargaining & rights protection. In Singapore you join the union for attractive supermarket discounts.
— Kirsten Han (@kixes) May 2, 2012
It had been just for fun, but the tweet was retweeted over 50 times (Twitter stops counting after 50), and I received many replies. Not a single one spoke up in support of the unions; mostly they just wanted to remind me of the redeemable movie-and-popcorn combos and restaurant deals. Apart from the usefulness of some of NTUC’s insurance plans, the sense that I get from talking about unions to Singaporeans is that NTUC has not truly represented the ordinary worker for a long, long time, and is now seen more as an extension of the ruling party.
If the NTUC really wants to rehabilitate its image and demonstrate the usefulness of its “teeth” it has a long way to go. Perhaps one way to start would be to stop buying ad space in the newspaper instead of engaging more with disgruntled workers.
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Honestly I don’t think there’s much that can be done. This is one instance where we arrived a the future ahead of the Americans. Unions are rendered obsolete in the face of technological change.
Good summary of tripartism.
The government is of the position that tripartism have brought more benefits than costs. Benefits/costs as in social, economic, political, etc. This would not change until it becomes very obvious that the costs have caught up.
Judging from recent events observed and your not too optimistic outlook, the government’s position remains unchanged.
Historically, tripartism was formulated from political expediency. For it to be redefined/changed/abandoned, the costs must not just outweigh the benefits. But, the political benefits.
We’ve taken industrial peace for granted. People dun realise the real challenge we face is hardly a case of mgt bullying workers anymore. It’s global competition and consumers bullying both mgt and workers. Unions try to protect workers by helping them gain skills which helps them keep up with changing economic needs. Strikes don’t really benefit workers anymore.
Kirsten Han has a semi-correct understanding of the situation, and I would have appreciated it if she had done a bit more research.
First off, the allegation that President Ong Teng Cheong sanctioned the last strike in Singapore in 1986 without informing Cabinet has a couple of factual errors. Firstly, President OTC’s term of office was 1993 – 1999, so he wasn’t President in 1986. Secondly, the President does not sit in Cabinet. So this allegation is factually incorrect.
Secondly, the understanding of trade unionism in Singapore is also incorrect. Many people do not realise that many trade unions in Singapore are older than the NTUC is. The NTUC only came about in 1961, and today, there are 60 unions and 1 association affiliated to it. The relationship between affiliated unions and the NTUC is rather like that of countries to the UN. Also, there are non-affiliated unions too, in case you are wondering.
In the 60s, there were numerous strikes, many wildcat ones (perhaps Kirsten Han would like to explain what a wildcat strike is :p). The government knew this unstable climate will not help draw investments to Singapore and embarked on a enlightened approach together with the unions. In return for the unions’ acceptance of reviews to the Trade Union Act and the Employment Act, the government would give due recognition and power to the unions such that they need not take to the streets to be heard. The Sec-Gen of the NTUC was made a Cabinet Minister such that the Labour Movement’s views could be heard and deliberated whilst policies were formed. Union leaders were nominated to sit on the boards of national bodies like the CPF Board, HDB, NWC and so on. This surely is a far better way for unions to influence policies than to take to the streets each time there is unjust? Perhaps Kirsten Han can suggest a country that sees frequent strikes and yet has grown well over the years?
The key question Singaporeans have to ask is this – what industry relations climate is good for Singapore? In France, many companies have 49 employees only. Why? Because if they have 50 and above, they have to set up employee councils, introduce restructuring etc. Rigid laws that are pro-workers but conveniently avoided. In Indonesia, companies cannot fire workers at all due to the strong trade unions and so the find ways to get around it, like shutting down the entire plant and restarting works in another province. This means letting go of employees who could have continued to be employed. Is this better?
The trade unions in Singapore are enlightened. Don’t let others tell you otherwise, as they are often misguided, poorly read, or simply, not bothered about Singapore’s economic survivability.
Thank you for your correction, yes you are right in saying that Ong Teng Cheong wasn’t the President in 1986; he was Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary-General of NTUC. I always think of him as a the President, and he always comes up in conversation and readings as the President that I ended up typing that. Apologies!
As for the other point, as DPM Ong Teng Cheong would have been in the Cabinet.
Also, thank you for the background of the unions. However, in this piece I wanted to focus on the unions as they are today, and how they’re perceived by the people.
Thank you for acknowledging the error. I think the important thing is to report factually and provide the full context. Otherwise you misrepresent the context of things and that I feel is unfair and unnecessary.
well, in capitalism workers will always be at the loosing end in the long run. and capitalism can hardly be countered solely on the national level. therefore people who always ask ‘what is best for singapore considering the global competition?’ already accepted the capitalist framework and therefore also already accepted the defeat of workers.
I suggest workers not to depend on unions so much, but get organised on their own and transnationally – something like the IWW -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World but on a much greate scale.
I think it’s great that this discourse takes place – at least among a few people in singapore.
Tripartism is most powerful when there is trust. Trust so strong that you allow each other to “police” on one another. Ong Ye Kung sitting on SMRT Board is a case in point. Contrary to what Kirsten thinks, he is there to “police” the SMRT managemnet, to ensure that SMRT workers do not get shortchanged, that the company practice fair gain-sharing and support workers’ interest. Please dont get the Board’s role mixed up with executive management role (aka CEO, MD, who are salaried staff paid to deliver). It is a great stride when a company invites a union rep to sit on its board. Not many companies dare to this. Likewise, not many countries have labour leaders that can speak up for workers and inflence policy making. Why are we killing the golden goose in our fervour to beat up the union? Having said that, I totally agree that unions should show more voice, and growl when times call for it. Dispense with the political niceties, and speak bravely. That would be the union I want.
I think it is important to look at societal progress and governance in its entirety.
The problem with comparing progress and governance across countries is that it is never fair. Is the US system better than Singapore’s? After all, they are the bastion of democracy? I don’t think so. Both Democrat and Republican presidential candidates are raising hundreds of millions for their campaigns and where do you think the money comes from? The Sheldon Adelsons in the US surely are not silly enough to just give away their money in the spirit of freedom? After either candidates win, what do you think follows? Just a thank you dinner? Come on.
Is Singapore’s system perfect? I don’t think that is true either. We probably can do more for lower income families. We probably can do more to allow society at large to partake more in Singapore’s growth. But hey, we have to recognise why things are as they are today, trade unions, politics et al.
The author laughs at trade unions giving workers supermarket discounts. Is this laughable? I think not. Just read the recent news for examples of people in Greece, Spain scouring the streets because why? Hunger. Poverty, thrusted upon them cruelly. They cannot afford basic staples as prices have gone up beyond them. And here we are making fun of the unions helping to keep the cost of living low?
Isn’t that remarkable?
Did you read about the $1.99 meals offered by another NTUC cooperative? Press reported that the hawker was scolded silly by a customer when he tried to return the 1 cent change. That is a thank you to someone who has kept your stomache full for less than $2? Where is the gratitude?
I think we have to get off the moral high horse and decide what we should do pragmatically. Don’t put through ideas that pooh pooh our trade unions, for example, just to pretend to be holier than thou.
In the author’s opinions, trade unions should call a strike and show teeth each time:
1. Any worker is unhappy at work over anything? (after all, they pay membership fees what…)
2. Any employer is unable to pay bonuses because the company cannot afford to?
3. Food prices go up?
4. Housing prices go up?
5. the list goes on…
If the country is inundated by strikes or tough industrial action just so the unions can show they have teeth (as in the 50s), I’d rather the status quo anytime. Or risk living life like Singaporeans in the 50s.
After all, in the Singapore I call home today, workers who need training can get funding and other alternatives, workers who are exploited can get protection and have their cases resolved (unfortunately for the author, in a matured and composed manner BEHIND THE SCENES) and thousands get helped by the COMBINED efforts of the trade unions in Singapore.
Thank you for your comment. However, I would prefer if you did not take my arguments to extremes. At no point did I say that trade unions should call a strike any time a worker is unhappy over anything, or when employers are unable to cater to every demand of the union.
I understand that strikes are not always the answer. However, what I was saying is that with things as it is, the public perception is that Singapore’s union leaders are NOT with the workers they claim to represent. Although NTUC claims that it is not toothless and has the ability to take action on behalf of the workers, its actions have suggested something different to many Singaporeans.
I have problems agreeing with your perspectives.
Firstly, you spent a third of your article on “striking in Singapore”. Bad english and inaccurate facts aside, you now say never did you say trade unions should call a strike anytime a worker is unhappy over anything.
This shows either that you are very naive or inexperienced over how strikes, or for that matter, any industrial action can evolve.
In the turbulent 60s, there were strikes aplenty – ex-President SR Nathan shared his personal observations of a youngster who was hurt, but rather than rushing him to the hospital where he almost certainly could be saved, he was paraded by the workers till he lost too much blood and died. Were the workers problems solved? Was the situation made better for resolutions of whatever disagreements there were? You be the judge.
2 elections ago at Lavender Street, what began as a peaceful SDP GE rally became a riot thereafter – literally. Despite the best efforts of Mr. Chiam See Tong and his crew, the crowd became agitated by rumours of how Mr. Chiam did not get a rally permit in Potong Pasir and the gathering became a ruckus and people fought, chairs flew and blood shed. Too far back? Here’s some help.. http://www.preshigh.edu.sg/teachers/laick/Singapore/Political%20Parties/The%20eyes%20and%20ears%20of%20an%20election%20candidate.aspx
More recently in Malaysia, the opposition asked for people to come out to the streets for a peaceful protest. Did you read about what happened thereafter? Someone agitated the crowd – opposition says it is govt-linked, govt says it is opposition. Whatever the case, downtown KL was a warzone for those few hours.
All I am trying to say is that you can have your best intentions in calling for whatever industrial actions, it would be plain naivety to think that whoever walks the streets for your pain does so for your pain alone.
My second objection is how you have summarily assumed that the public perception is that Singapore’s union leaders are not with the workers they claim to represent.
May I know how you have reached this very clear understanding of the perception please? Would be great if you could share your research methodology, as otherwise, it would seem that you have once again used your own judgement to assume that is the truth – much like your assertion that OTC was always president in your mind and so, nevermind the truth, he was president when he sanctioned the last strike without informing the cabinet. From a research perspective, you have introduced bias into your hypothesis, and even worse, your bias was not even based on any semblance of truth, which could be easily verified. That also smacks of tardiness in your journalistic approach.
So what do we want?
Senario 1: close down all Unions & NTUC, everyone fend for yourself. You got unjustly sacked, go queue up outside MOM and wait for your turn to seek redress. Be retrenched and get nothing, once again, fend for yoursef. Angry people match down the street, unstability increases, investment drop… oh c’mon, we know what are the rest that will happen.
Senario 2: Union fight for every single small things everyday, fight with employers, fight with govt. Employers get upset, govt stop supporting. Union will have lion-big mouth with razor sharp teeth, bite like a mad lion, then what do we get? Businesses will just move away, the rest, once again we all know.
I want none of the senario cited above.
The Art of Balance is key. Economic student like me will agree.
Has our unions done enough? Of course not! Their job is never-ending!
Can they do more? Why not?
More card promotions? how can anyone complaint?
Author, one more thing, how many organisations will 100% consult their staff for every changes they make in the organisation? Be realistics! If they gather feedback from staff, applaud them. If they don’t, curse and bitch about them.
My parents are cleaners. I am saddened by their plight because they worked very hard but for very little. One labour MP (Zainul Abidin..I think)called this situation `Slavery of the Poor’ and I think he is absolutely right. One way union can have more teeth is to do more for the low wage workers. My parents deserve more than what is being paid to them. Union must look into demanding minimum wage for the cleaners. Otherwise, union is in a `sorry state’.
I think the union is working with the government to set a wage guidelines under NEA grading scheme. Recalled reading about it in the Chinese papers. Cheers!
Came across this piece of commentary a couple weeks back (http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/features/50262/the-28-minimum-wage-one-year-on.html) and thought it will be good to share it here, since there were some mention about minimum wage and comments made in the earlier thread.
There are so many discussions about minimum wage, is it the way to go for Singapore. The key idea being to protect low-wage workers from exploitation by employers. Just impose the law and employers to follow, workers benefit in the end. Logical? Sounds logical.
Sounds convenient too.
Logic tells me that, with the increase of wages, employers will have to find ways to cushion the impact as well. Examples I’ve read about are cutting of jobs to consolidate manpower, end up the existing workers having to work more than usual.
It also tells me that, inflation rates will rise as companies start transferring costs to whoever’s paying for the goods/services.
To bring in the example about the link I’ve shared above, it’s been a year since Hong Kong introduced minimum wage of HK$28 (about $5 SGD?) per hour in 2011. The commentary showed exactly what logic told me and more.
We shall observe our neighbour, Malaysia, which recently introduced a minimum wage of RM$900 (about $360 SGD?) and it will be interesting to study what happens down the road.
Many of you who disagree with Kirsten’s article tend to paint a doomsday scenario, that our economic survival is at stake if there are strong and vocal unions that are independent of the government.
Why do we assume that just because unions have more teeth, are more vocal and go on strike, that it’ll paralyse the entire economy? Isn’t that rather extreme?
The countries with independent and more vigorous unions also happen to have workers with productivity levels which are way higher than Singapore’s. And Singapore is in a productivity crisis, which is limiting the growth of our economy. It is true that the economies of some advanced western industrialised countries may not be doing well now but blaming it on strong, vocal unions is not only simplistic but incorrect.
There was also a comment that Ong Ye Kung is there as a check and balance to ‘police’ SMRT. This position assumes that Ong will act with generosity and benevolence. We claim that there is ‘trust’ among the tripartite partners and they check and balance each other. How can this be? It is like justifying giving parents unlimited power over their children because there is love and trust among them. Are we supposed to take this seriously? How naive is that?
A comment was also made about the the good work that NTUC is doing through its vouchers and it should not be denigrated. NTUC and unions should not be in the business of handing out charity vouchers. This is the work of charities, not unions. Moreover, if unions were able to bargain for better wages and working conditions, there wont be a need for these vouchers in the first place. NTUC’s charity work allows them to justify keeping wages low and remaining complicit in the exploitation of workers.
I think you are not looking at things in perspective. Singapore is too small to compare to “some advanced western industrialised countries”. A strike in Toa Payoh can affect operations in Jurong much faster than London to Birmingham, or Athens to the Mykonos.
I saw in Frankfurt how people sat in the Occupy Frankfurt campaign outside the ECB HQ, and I saw how life was business as usual at Bremen, with people hardly minding the protests. I was in Bahrain in 2003 (Bahrain is about the same size as Singapore) and there was a bomb in Manama, the capital of the country and immediately, there was shock amongst many in the expatriate community as the bomb was too near for comfort.
You say we are painting doomsday scenario. My question to you is to what are you attributing this sense of calmness that a strike is just that and will not affect anything in Singapore. A lot of what we have today is from deliberate efforts to maintain the peace and harmony, not by chance or simple good nature of humans. If the MRT crew goes on strike, I doubt everything will turn out well.
Your comment on OYK sitting on the board of SMRT shows some ignorance of the role of independant directors on public companies. Should read up a little http://www.sid.org.sg/main/good_practise_doc/good_practiceSGPNo72007
You totally lost me there with your comment that a check and balance position assumes OYK will act with generosity and benevolence. Huh? Generosity to who? The shareholders or commuters? Your further comment “Its like giving parents unlimited power over their children because there is love and trust among them” confuses further. Sounds a little like some of those comments I’ve heard in primary school “Where there is water in the mountains, there will be fishes in the oceans”..
I think you lack the understanding of what the Labour Movement in Singapore has done and is doing. In the business of handing out charity vouchers? You conveniently left out the employment and employability aspects of what they do. You left out the workplace negotiations on wages, annual increments that affects thousands of workers annually. You left out the amounts of savings ordinary workers get from their lunch, dinner, their purchases of rice, milk powder. There are so many more aspects but becasue you do not know and are not interested in looking for the information, you ridicule the efforts.
Challenge yourself – do something for society and understand how hard the efforts are for yourself. Stop being an armchair critic.
I’d like to bring the focus to the fact that industrial actions like strikes are usually actions of the last resort.
Negotiation, conciliation and arbitration precedes industrial actions and for this, I think NTUC is not any different than unions in other countries held up for comparison. In fact, I think Singapore has a much more robust system as the framework to resolve disputes is pragmatic and does not hold prejudice against anyone, especially the poor who cannot hire lawyers to represent themselves.
The doomsday scenario has been flogged to death and it is a scare tactic that Lee Kwan Yew has been using since time immemorial. If our unions are too vocal, our society will plunge into chaos and our women will become maids in other people’s countries? Hong Kong, which is comparable in size and population, but with more civil liberties has not imploded. I don’t know how having more vocal unions can lead to bombs and mayhem.
A code of practice for Board of Governors is just that: a code. it has no teeth. I bet many board directors of many companies don’t even read it, or are aware of its existence! And you’ve missed my Ong Ye Kung point completely. Conflict of interest is a serious issue because it compromises the independence of the organisation, which will in turn affect its ability to represent the interests of its stakeholders. Really, if our unions were so effective and independent, is this why only a $50 increase was recommended by the National Wages Council? Is this why the wages of the lowly paid have stagnated? Is this why we have one of the highest income inequality in the world?
I like the way you think that societal issues can be managed or calibrated. We can dispense 20% chaos and then Singapore becomes a better place. Once chaps level reaches 20%, we will shut down all agitators and maintain that level?
Let’s be realistic – whether it is a doomsday scenario or not is semantic dogma. What is real is that Singapore is not like Hong Kong, which is not an country on its own. However much chaos on the streets, the SAR that it is does not have universal suffrage. So your citing of this as example is ironic – why should the PAP govt invent a doomsday scenarion just to scare everyone into voting for them? Or else what happens? When you voted, at any point did you feel pressured into voting for PAP because the said doomsday scenario? I think you should not insult our general populace, who, in case you have not noticed, are now relatively well-travelled and educated.
Your continued pursuit of the OYK appointment is even more perplexing. You obviously missed the point that OYK was appointed an independant director of SMRT and is also the executive secretary of the National Transport Workers Union. As his workers representative, I think he would be in the best position to conduct one of the inquiries (in case you did not know, he did not chair the main inquiry but rather the internal BOI within SMRT) hearing what the management had to say without unfairly pinning the blame on the workers alone, should that doomsday scenario happen. On the other hand, if the BOI was done by someone on the management side, wouldn’t that be worse? This is the reason why public companies must employ independent directors to sit on their boards – and I think your point about them not reading the code of governance is moot, since many know they can go to jail if they are derelict in their duties.
I like the way you think that societal issues can be managed or calibrated. We can dispense 20% chaos and then Singapore becomes a better place. Once chaos level reaches 20%, we will shut down all agitators and maintain that level?
Let’s be realistic – whether you call it doomsday scenario or not is semantic dogma. What is real is that Singapore is not like Hong Kong, which is not a country on its own. Whatever chaos on the streets, the SAR that it is does not enjoy universal suffrage. So your citing of HK as example is ironic – why should the PAP govt invent a doomsday scenario just to scare everyone into voting for them? The populace are not children who will be threatened by: Or else the lightning god! When you voted, at any point did you feel pressured into voting for PAP because of the said doomsday scenario? I think you should not insult our general populace, who, in case you have not noticed, are now relatively well-travelled and educated.
Your continued pursuit of the issue of OYK’s appointment is even more perplexing. You obviously misread why OYK’s role as an independant director of SMRT and also the executive secretary of the National Transport Workers Union is important. As his workers representative, I think he would be in the best position to conduct one of the inquiries (in case you did not know, he did not chair the main inquiry but rather the internal BOI within SMRT) hearing what the management had to say without unfairly pinning the blame on the workers alone, should that “doomsday scenario” happen. On the other hand, if the BOI was done by someone on the management side, wouldn’t that be worse? This is the reason why public companies must employ independent directors to sit on their boards – and I think your point about them not reading the code of governance is moot, since many know they can go to jail if they are derelict in their duties.
The issue of universal suffrage is irrelevant to the point being made, which is that having strikes in Singapore does not necessarily mean it is bad for the country. The PAP has been inventing doomosday scenarios to scare the populace. Look at how for example they say that if the PAP is not in power, Singapore will decline etc etc and how if there are strikes, our economy will be adversely affected. OYK was not an independent director. He sat on the board of SMRT. A person is only independent if he is from an outside institution. The BOI need not be done by someone from the management side. It could be done by someone outside of SMRT. Isn’t that more independent? Lastly, code of governance and conduct is different to what is stipulated in the laws. One may not go to jail for breaching codes of conduct: they are distinct and separate
Kirsten, what would you say of this?
Today, the NTUC Legal Services Team fought on behalf of the UWEEI (United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries) at the Industrial Arbitration Court.
Here’s what happened:
■98 workers were retrenched
■The company refused to pay Union demands of 1 month salary per completed year of service
The company argued that there was no signed Collective Agreement – and hence, insisted that payment of 2 weeks (per year of service) was generous enough. They further added that the company was making losses and were unable to pay the union’s requested amount of 1 month (per completed year of service).
Justice Chan Seng Onn delivered verdict and demanded Company to make payment.
FYI – a Collective Agreement usually takes between 3 months – 2 years. This is a victory for the workers, the Labour Movement and another victory for peaceful, non-disruptive action.
Came across this while I’m sourcing for information for my essay. Yep, I remember the perk of joining Teachers’ Union was the free membership card of NTUC, another Union. Needless to say I did not join, as a teacher I was worked till near breakdown, and trust me, the Teachers’ Union is not worth mentioning. We need more brave souls like you Kirsten Han. Great report. There will always be comments questioning your article and perspectives from readers who are very well conditioned by our well controlled systems. At least this encourages a critical discussion about the state of our affairs. Having a unitarian approach is a path that will ultimately lead to our demise. Sure strikes are not necessarily good for the economy but the power distribution is leaning too much towards employer and government right now. Even peaceful stationary demonstrations are rare and far between, can we honestly ever see teachers step out and scream performance bonus isn’t everything? Anyway thank you Kirsten for being our voice.