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New initiatives needed, says Gilbert Goh.

Tripartism not the cure-all for employees

In tomorrow’s top story, guest writer PN Balji takes a look at “born-again citizens” (or new citizens) and the influence they may have on Singapore politics.

Gilbert Goh

I refer to the article, "Labour chief says legislations is not the solution", on Channel news Asia dated 11 Dec 08.

Tripartism only works when all parties play their part fairly in equal proportion. I know the merits of tripartism as advocated by our Labour Chief Lim Swee Say to be a peaceful and fair way of resolving labour disputes.

Nevertheless, events this year have proved that tripartism may not work well in a downturn as many companies will want to retrench workers as fast as possible to reduce cost. They may even chop our own local workers as they are deemed more expensive and less abled due to various reasons. I agree with Mr Lim here that legislation will not work and it may even cause a company to go under.

Our workers all along have a centralised union which is counted on to speak and fight on their behalf. So far, this seem to have worked well as we have relatively few labour disputes - an exception perhaps the infamous SIA pilot pay conflict. The unions, unfortunately, only cover a portion of our working population and many executives that earn more than a certain income are still union-less and subject to the unfair hire-and-fire policy of many companies. This group appears vulnerable and may need some form of legislation to protect their employment rights which is currently missing.

The recent DBS retrenchment of 600 workers, though unionised, is a stark example of how tripatism may not work in a recession. Though the bank supports tripartism, it only pays lip service to such policy whenits bottomline is at stake. So long as they have compensated adequately those that they have retrenched, they are deemed to carried out the retrenchment within the labour laws here.

Companies will choose to take this bitter medicine against the wishes of their workers as it is the swiftest way to reduce cost. Tripartism, as argued, can only work well in good times. During bad times, employers will have no time and resources to consult their workers as the whole ship will sink if drastic action is not taken immediately.

I feel that after-care support for retrenched workers needs to be enhanced further here rather than constantly supporting the call for tripartism. The SPUR (Skills programme for upgrading and resilience) initiative is a step forward as our workers will benefit from constant upgrading. However, our workers may not be able to get any jobs after re-training in a severe recession as job creation is minimal.

I support the call for a limited form of unemployment benefit given to deserving people such as breadwinners - with strings attached. They have to go for retraining and job interviews failing which their benefits will be removed. This is only fair as there is no free lunch anywhere.

As Singapore remains vulnerable to more job losses, let us move forward with new intiatives rather than holding on to old policies that may not work anymore in this modern world.

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