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Trade Unionism in Singapore (Presentation Final Draft)

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  • SG Inequality Facebook

9 November 2019

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Slide 1

1. SG’s tripartite labour relations is dominated by the Government with the union headed by a cabinet minister.

  • Perennial conflict of interests: ‘fighting’ for the workers’ welfare vs. mission to foster industrial peace as a minister.

2. To be sure, it is not all bad to have the Government leading the union movement

  • given Singapore history of disruptive communist-instigated industrial actions in the 1950s/1960s.

3. Unionism led by the Government during the earlier years helped to drive economic developments by fostering industrial peace.


Slide 2

1. However, after six decades of uninterrupted absolute rule, the Government today is

  • policymaker and regulator

  • capital owner with extensive investments through the state-owned investment companies, and

  • business owner through the government linked companies and their webs of subsidiaries.


2. 1G political leaders altruistic in their motivations. Current Government faces growing conflicts of interests because of vested interests.

3. It will take a strong political leader like former President Ong Teng Cheong to know his true call of duty as also a union chief.

  • Sanctioned a strike without first informing the cabinet


Slide 3

1. This conflict of interests played out in a bad way soon after the turn of the century.

  • Govt decided to go for “growth at all costs” and

  • sanctioned the influx of foreign workers to drive growth and to suppress wage costs.


2. The union chief was faced with the dilemma of supporting the influx of foreign workers for higher economic growth or to oppose the liberal foreign worker policy to safeguard workers’ interests.


3. As it turned out, with influx of foreign workers,

  • GDP grew annually by an impressive average of 8.75%

  • GC rose from 0.464 (2004) to peak at 0.489 (2007).

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