Mayday protest: Independent labour unions, a must for labour rights

Over 400 individuals turned up at Hong Lim Park on Mayday, 1 May to commemorate the day for laborers and to show support to Transitioning.org’s event to protest for more labour rights for Singaporean workers.

During the event, bananas were given out to attending members of public to show support to Amos Yee, a 16 year old teenager who was charged for posting a YouTube video on counts of harassment, and deliberate wounding of religious feelings. Amos is currently in police remand.

Mr Frankie Low, a businessman and a member of the National Solidarity Party started off the event with a solemn note that this May Day is the first May Day celebration without the first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, but pointed out that with or without him, Singapore is still one of the countries with the highest income inequality in the developed world. Mr Low asked how happy exactly are Singaporean workers are and hoped that opposition could do more to come together and push for changes in the government for the people.

Mary Goh, retired school teacher lamented the fact that many elders have to continue working because many of them did not earn a lot to accumulate enough for retirement, or to meet the minimum sum for CPF to be withdrawn, depending on the pitiful sum every month. She added that these people contributed to the growth of Singapore and asked why do they have to live their life as such?

Daryl Sim, an undergraduate took to stage with the recent issue where foreigners are applying for jobs with fraudulent degrees or degrees that may not be accredited and said that it is a fact that locals are finding it hard to seek proper jobs despite the low unemployment rate reported by the government.

Mr William Lim, a taxi driver and representative of Singapore Democratic Alliance highlighted the conflict of interest of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the government. Mr Lim said,  “So where is the conflict of interest? When there is a commercial or labour dispute, who should these leaders represent?”.

He added that if the union represent the labour, there may be contradiction with the government policy or cause harm to the employers. However, if the unions were to represent the employers, they’ll be violating the spirit of the Union, which is to fight for the people. “So where do our Union Stand now? The employees or the employers?”, asked Mr Lim.

Ms Fatimah Akhtar added onto the topic by sharing her experience with NTUC, saying that NTUC in response to her queries as a NTUC member, advised her to speak to her higher management or to consult a lawyer instead of acting on her behalf. Ms Fatimah also asked how the Ministry of Manpower or Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) could expect any results in their investigation if the agencies were to simply take the complaint of the workers and confront the company on the matter. She suspects while the agencies’ methodology does involve independent data but likely to rely heavily on employers’ interview.

She also spoke of the need for an independent body to conduct the investigation into accusations of discrimination against Singaporean workers.

Mr Leong Sze Hian with his usual statistics presentation, said Singaporeans are being subjected to an unfair situation, with declining wages and increasing living expenses and pointed that Singapore government does not pay anything to help Singaporeans despite the ongoing rhetoric that it has been spending on them.

singfirst at mayday protest

Opposition political party, Singfirst turned up in force at the protest event with members donning the party t-shirt and had their secretary-general, Mr Tan Jee Say and chairman, Mr Ang Yong Guan present. Mr Ang also participated in the event as a speaker.

Mr Ang in his speech talked about the need for employees to have a conducive environment for them to be productive and how the government needs to examine its policies to make people fit into the nation, sink roots here and to feel proud to be Singaporeans.

Mr Ang also spoke of the strikes in Singapore, citing the strike in 2012 by SMRT drivers which is illegal and the one in 1986 which was sanctioned by then Secretary General of NTUC, Mr Ong Teng Cheong. Mr Ang questioned, “How many Ong Teng Cheongs are there in the PAP cabinet or Parliament now? Dare to go against his cabinet ministers to do something that he considers right.” and called to have more oppositions to be sent into parliament.

tearing of degrees
Tearing of “fake degrees” on stage

Nearing the end of the protest event, Mr Gilbert Goh, organiser of the event, invited members of public to go on stage and perform a symbolic act of tearing the pieces of “fake degrees” that his volunteers had handed out earlier in the event. This in relation to the recent saga where an employee from the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) posted a degree from a known degree mill in her resume.

Mr Goh said that he is happy with the turnout of the crowd despite it being a public holiday and long weekend. He reiterate the need for such a protest to be held each year to highlight issues to the government and that Singapore needs independent labour unions to work for the people and not unions such as NTUC which is helmed by a minister who is part of the government.