NTUC: Champion carnival organiser or champion for workers’ rights?

NTUC: Champion carnival organiser or champion for workers’ rights?


By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the articles “NTUC tweaks scheme so more can enjoy free carnivals” and “Labour movement ‘won’t be affected by departure’” (Straits Times, Jun 3).

Read news get nausea?

Sometimes (getting more often nowadays), when you read the news on a Monday morning, you feel like vomiting (so far, haven’t really vomit yet, but almost).

When I read the above news reports, I almost choked on the roti prata that I was eating.

Champion carnival organiser?

The former article states that “NTUC Club will organise six carnivals this year, aiming to benefit 15,000 low-income union members and their families.

The NTUC is raising its income ceiling for union members and their families, so that more can attend the free carnivals that it organises through the year.

Now, households with a total monthly income of up to $3,500, or $875 for each family member, can benefit from the scheme.

Previously, only those in households with a monthly income of $3,000, or $750 for each member, could go to these carnivals at Downtown East, where they get free food, admission to a water park and unlimited play at game stalls, among other things”.

Or champion for workers’ rights?

When I read the above, the first thought that came to my mind was – is the NTUC a champion carnival organiser or a champion for workers’ rights, particularly lower-income workers.

I believe that ever since it started organising “free carnivals for lower-income members” – it has been organising more until the current 6 in a year.

When you have a question – google.

Definition of trade union?

So, I googled “unions” – “A modern definition (of trade unions) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is “an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members.”

If you look at the above definition of trade unions, the key words are “rates of pay and conditions of employment”.

How effective?

Let’s examine how effective (ineffective) Singapore has been in this regard.

The number of low-wage workers has been increasing –  the number earning less than $1,000 a month increased by about 1 per cent from 236,300 in 2011 to 238,000 (against 15,000 who will benefit from carnivals”) in 2012 (and we have not even factored in inflation at about 4.6% last year).

More and more low-wage workers?

Of this 238,000 workers, 114,100 were full-time workers, which is an increase of about 3.4 per cent from 2011′s 110,400.

Carnival more “benefit” than more pay?

As to “Ms Saria Mohamed Yusof, who attended her first carnival yesterday … The single parent supports three children on $755 a month” – do you think getting higher wages (can you imagine trying to support herself and 3 children on just $755 a month) is more important to her than attending a freebie carnival?

Is our labour movement in a way, focusing on the wrong priorities or what?

Labour MPs and leaders leaving?

Since we are on the subject of how effective trade unions are or have been in Singapore – the latter article referenced above said “The departures of seven labour MPs and high profile leaders of the NTUC since the 2011 General Election will not affect the effectiveness of the union movement”.

Who’s kidding who? – “effectiveness of the union movement” – kind of like the understatement of the decade!

Hopefully, what so many labour MPs weren’t able to do to really help lower-wage workers, will improve now that so many have left.

Oh no – not another “2 hats” union chief?

With regard to “When asked what traits his successor needs to have, Mr Lim said he has to be accepted by both the labour movement and the Prime Minister Minister and his Cabinet, if he is to represent workers’ interests in Cabinet. Do not rule out someone from the Cabinet being appointed labour chief too” – I think here lies the fundamental issue with our labour movement – Isn’t there a conflict of interest? How is the labour chief really going to fight for workers’ interests when he is also part of the Government (Cabinet)?

Union chief accepted by workers?

Also, by the way, did we forget about being  accepted by the workers? Or they don’t really matter?

Let’s hope that the next union chief will do a better job at raising wages for lower-income workers.

Bad, very lousy wage statistics? 

In the final analysis (of effectiveness) – like I always say – let the numbers do the talking:

Singapore has no minimum wage (see chart of 13 developed countries), lowest domestic purchasing power (see chart of 19 countries), 2nd lowest purchasing power parity (see chart of 20 countries), 2nd lowest median nominal wages after tax (see chart of 7 countries), negative real  income growth for the 1st decile of employed households from 2000 to 2010 (see chart), etc (“NWC: Oh no, not again?“, Jun 3).

Uniquely Singapore!