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SDA: Labour unions must be independent from the government

SDA
The Labor Day message by Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) calls for independence of labour unions from government influence, citing that the current labour-political partnership between the two is becoming a tool against the people.

Lim Bak Chuan Desmond, Chairman of Singapore Democratic Alliance writes, "To ensure that the interest and the welfare of our people, we must sever the ties between the labour, political and financial sectors."

The message also highlighted the need for a voice for the people without the need to reflect back on policies and other matters, "A voice doesn’t have to be rational; it doesn’t have to be huge in scope; it simply must voice the sentiment of the people. It must give voice to those who cannot be heard. That is the essence of a labour union."

The Labour Day message from SDA in full below.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of our country. Ever since 1961, the old union was dissolved by the new government, the pro-PAP government's labor movement together with her party set up a new National Trade Union Congress (or NTUC as we know it). It was registered with the Registry of Societies on 17 August and incorporated on 6th September 1961.

Since then, our labour and political parties have moved as one. During the uncertain times of old, she has proven to play an important role in bringing a stable investment environment with ample employment opportunities. Because of the common interests of both the labour and political parties, they could propel Singapore forward together and meet their long-term productivity and development goals. In those days, the labour and political parties stood together for the people and protected the public interest.

Today, things have changed. In the name of GDP growth, Singapore has opened its doors widely to allow an influx of foreign immigrant workers. The labour-political partnership, instead of working for the people’s interest, are now beginning to become a tool against the people. Instead of fighting for people’s rights; these organizations have compromised that purpose and tagged along with the political and financial sector for the pursuit of economic growth. Clearly, this has shown that the leaders of the National Trade Union Congress, Minister, and the Members of Parliament of the ruling party represent the interest of the employers. While this is of course for the long term, the macroeconomic growth of Singapore, this represents a clear conflict of interest.

The question comes – when there is a commercial and industrial labour dispute, in which capacity should the leaders represent? If they fight on the behalf of labour welfare, they may contradict government policy or cause harm to the interest of the employers. If they fight on behalf of the employees, then they’ll violating the spirit of the union, which is to fight for the people. One may say that the leaders can fight for both the employers AND the employees. That is an ideal situation, but we find that reality is seldom the case. Eventually, there comes a point where they have to choose a side. The union leaders either have to abide by the mission of their political parties and employers and thus unable to represent the workers fairly.

After all, in the end, what is a labour union, but one for the voice of the people? A voice doesn’t have to be rational; it doesn’t have to be huge in scope; it simply must voice the sentiment of the people. It must give voice to those who cannot be heard. That is the essence of a labour union.

So we see now in reality that the dream of shared prosperity has been shattered. The citizens of our country whom we laboured for must now bear the high costs of living in a First World country, yet earn the wages of a Third World employee. On top of that, our Singaporean brothers and sisters live with the constant fear that one day their jobs will be replaced by the influx of immigrants that are coming in droves.

To ensure that the interest and the welfare of our people, we must sever the ties between the labour, political and financial sectors. The union MUST be a union of the people! She must be independent so that she can play her original function of protecting the interest of our Singapore brothers.

Instead of placing their party members in the leadership of the union to set their policy, the government must separate these two functions, and instead attempt to maintain harmony with the independent trade union leaders. This will ensure that the interests of our employees are not compromised, and trade union leaders can fight to attain First World salaries to meet the costs of First World living standards.

As Singapore moves on to a new phase of her life, she needs constant change to keep up with the rest of the world. Whatever that has stopped working must be evolved, changed and even overhauled. Now this is the time when the voice of the people must be heard again; let us change what does not work anymore, and build a model that is ready for the future.

Happy Labour Day!

Thank you!

With Best Regards

Lim Bak Chuan Desmond, Chairman of Singapore Democratic Alliance