NTUC and three other labour unions have said that they have stepped in to stop unfair retrenchment practices by aircraft maintenance and repair company Eagle Services Asia (Eagle Services). According to reports, Eagle Services displayed a“lack of transparency” and “disregard” for negotiations with the unions and had not followed the due process for retrenchment.
NTUC’s Ng Chee Meng was seen personally handling this matter and even authorised the unions to prepare for legal industrial action. This is in itself unprecedented given Singapore’s long established reputation of having a zero tolerance policy towards any form of industrial action.
Given that Eagle Services is a joint venture between SIA Engineering and American aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, let’s stick with using SIA as an example.
In 1980, the Singapore Airlines Pilots’ Association (SIAPA) was infamously dealt with by Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) for daring to launch a work-to-rule industrial action in order to secure better base salaries and work conditions.
LKY had notably said:
“I can tell you that when I met the SIA pilots, I didn’t meet them on TV, I met them face-to-face. Five feet across the table so they can see me, and see whether I’m still vigorous, able to campaign and take them on. Whether it’s worth taking me on. And I offered them two choices. Either you stop this intimidation, which is what it was, bringing SIA right down. Disrupting services, ruining its reputation. Millions of dollars worth of advertisements and sales ruined within a matter of two weeks. I gave them a choice. Continue this and I will by every means at my disposal teach you and get the people of Singapore to help me teach you a lesson you won’t forget.And I’m prepared to start all over again or stop it! Get back to work, restore discipline, then argue your case.Took them 65 minutes and they decided ok it isn’t worth the fight.Why? Because they know they’ll lose.They know that I’m prepared to ground the airline. They know that I can get the airline going again without them.And let there be no mistakes about it. Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I spent a whole lifetime building this. And as long as I’m in charge, nobody’s going to knock it down.”
In 2004, Captain Ryan Goh, a Malaysian who led a campaign at Singapore Airlines to oust union leaders who accepted pay cuts and redundancies was effectively deported from Singapore despite having built his life here.
What about the more recent bus driver pay disputes where the Plaintiffs have been intimidated and bullied?
And what about the bus drivers who were jailed on 2013 for daring to strike over wanting better pay and working conditions?
It would appear that bus drivers do not even want to be part of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU), an affiliate union of the NTUC because they do not think that it would protect them
Contrasting these examples with the Asian Eagle dispute, it would appear that there’s been a huge shift in mentality on the part of the establishment in dealing with workers’ rights.
Or, is the establishment slowly picking up on the mood of the people and finally realising they need to help them? Will this be a sustained effort to help workers? Or is this a one hit wonder? We need to wait and see. But what’s clear is that we need to collectively and consistently demand for accountability. Power does not yield without a fight.