Labour Day Special: On May Day, others strike, Singapore celebrates

May Day Cover

If you have been following international news, you would have heard of the recent strikes in the UK where tens of thousands of doctors, teachers, civil servants, lecturers, London Underground drivers, and Amazon workers took part in. Or the strike by South Korean truckers estimated to have cost more than $1.6 billion in lost shipments. Now, France is bracing for fresh strikes and protests come Labour Day weekend when most of us would be out and about celebrating with friends and families. Or chilling at home with Netflix on.

Aiya, Singapore cannot strike what. Police will catch?

You may not know that in Singapore, unions CAN take industrial action, including strikes legally. Industrial action may include strikes, picketing or working slowly, very slowly. Industrial action is allowed in Singapore, if workers adhere to labour laws. While industrial action is very rare in Singapore, it can happen. Most recently, in 2020, displeasure with a company was brought to light when a secret ballot – authorised by NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng – was conducted to sanction legal industrial action. APPROVED by the Labour Chief himself! At that time, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was trying to put a halt to what it regarded as the unfair retrenchment of workers at aircraft maintenance company Eagle Services Asia. Then, Ng had received messages from workers and unions about an unfair retrenchment exercise.

May Day Cover 2

The workers gave their “overwhelming support” to pursue legal industrial action. Of course support lah, for some workers, there was no warning that they were going to be retrenched until they arrived at work

“Thrown out like animals.”

“Not even a chance to say goodbye to friends and colleagues.” 🙁

It was with much relief to all parties that an amicable agreement was eventually reached with Eagle Services Asia on the retrenchment. While industrial action like strikes make for good drama, it can really cripple an economy. Just look at this, and this. You want meh?

All unions affiliated to NTUC? No, Singapore unions have the freedom to associate

Did you know that not all unions have to be affiliated with NTUC? The Air Line Pilots Association Singapore, Singapore Motor Workshops Employees’ Union and Singapore Catering Services, Staffs & Workers’ Trade Union are some examples. Save for a few, the NTUC spearheads the labour movement of Singapore, which represents almost a million workers in the country across more than 70 unions, affiliated associations and related organisations.

Contrary to what trolls on the WWW will have you believe, the NTUC is not G-linked. That said, the PAP and NTUC enjoy a symbiotic relationship – an almost bromance. The PAP-NTUC symbiotic relationship dates back to the 1960s. Before you and I were born, before either “PAP” or “NTUC” even existed. You see, Mr Lee Kuan Yew began his political career as a lawyer representing the postal workers’ union. He helped them gain better wages and terms of service from the colonial government then! By the time the PAP was formed in 1954, Mr Lee was legal adviser to more than 100 unions and associations. Many other founding members of the PAP were unionists as well.

On Labour Day, others protest, Singapore celebrates

Today, employers and employees, unions and the Government are more collaborative rather than confrontational. Instead of banging tables in negotiations, union leaders in Singapore sit on major statutory boards and are actively involved in state policymaking. Take for example, Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab, who is also the vice-president of NTUC. He has been speaking up for workers on issues related to strengthening of the Singporean core and expansion of the Progressive Wage Model. In Parliament, this NMP has always spoken up for workers, fellow union leaders, and reiterated that NTUC will always be there for workers

Union leaders like Abdul Samad bring the voices of everyday workers like us to Parliament! And on Labour Day? Everyone celebrates. Just check out the sea of red during last year’s May Day Rally.

20220501 May Day Rally hero jpg


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