PAP-NTUC relationship erodes workers’ rights?


Has the PAP-NTUC relationship eroded workers’ rights?

I refer to the article “PAP draws NTUC closer amid disruption” (Straits Times, Nov 25).

It states that “The symbiotic relationship between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the unions is deepening.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Tuesday said PAP ministers and office-holders will take on additional advisory roles within various NTUC arms, such as its unit for freelancers and self-employed people.

All PAP MPs, where possible, will also advise not just unions – as they already do now – but professional bodies under the NTUC as well.

The announcement came two days after PAP secretary-general Lee Hsien Loong reiterated the importance of his party’s symbiotic relationship with NTUC at the PAP convention on Sunday.

He said: “Over the decades, the PAP and the labour movement stood together through many difficult times… Because we stayed together, the country thrived, and people’s lives improved.”

NTUC sent one of the largest delegations in history to the PAP’s annual get-together this year. At 240-strong, it is 10 times the delegation size in most years. An NTUC leader also spoke at the convention.

There are three reasons the PAP and NTUC might want to forge more extensive ties at this juncture.”

As to “First, workers are likely to be affected by economic disruption in the short to medium term. The strengthened links may be a way for the two to brace themselves for difficult times ahead and to ensure that adversity does not divide them” – let’s review what the very close PAP-NTUC relationship has given to workers.

… so many low-wage workers

… very low per hour wage of as little as $6

… very little of the jobs growth in the recent years went to Singaporeans

… increasing (real) unemployment rate which is masked by the conversion of foreign workers to permanent residents  (PRs) and new citizens

.. rising umder-employment translating  into freelance, contract and part-time jobs

… horrendous working conditions, such as the overtime exemption for security guards to work up to 95 hours of overtime a month

With regard to “When the PAP split in 1961, the left-leaning faction departed to form a new party – Barisan Sosialis. The majority of unions that had supported the PAP up to that point switched allegiance to the Barisan Sosialis and formed a new umbrella group called the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (Satu).

The smaller pro-PAP labour movement then formed NTUC in the same year. Over time, NTUC won over some unions. But the decisive moment was the 1963 General Election. The PAP won 37 out of 51 seats. Barisan Sosialis got 13 seats. After that election, Satu was refused registration, and many unions eventually decided to join NTUC” – if we had an alternative union to fight for workers’ rights – do you think the outcomes for workers may be better now?

In respect  of “Today’s NTUC may seem unassailable, with its chief represented in Cabinet, strong unions across all sectors, and a stable of successful social enterprises providing affordable insurance, groceries, childcare and healthcare services, among others. But its birth amid bitter factional rivalry is part of the NTUC’s DNA. Its history explains the strong institutional ties between it and the ruling party.

The PAP-NTUC symbiotic relationship prevents rival parties from co-opting the unions. If the PAP and NTUC serve the interests of a broad swathe of workers, they will also prevent the rise of a rival labour movement that might want to work with an opposition party” – isn’t this a clear and obvious conflict of interest when the head of the unions is always a cabinet minister?

Are there any countries in the world with such an arrangement?

As to “The latest move to include professional bodies – which have traditionally been non-partisan – is a new development. It remains to be seen how this would be implemented – for example, whether a group that prefers not to have a PAP MP advising it can choose to be excluded from the arrangement” – this may be clear evidence that we are not a democratic country.

With regard to “Mr Lee is not the first to stress the need to understand PAP’s and NTUC’s history. Past NTUC leaders have said that each new generation of unionists needs to appreciate anew the value in the relationship.

Why might young unionists not fully recognise the benefits of the bond with the PAP? They may see a loss of agency by the unions, as a result of the tie-up.

The NTUC secretary-general has conventionally been appointed to the Cabinet. While this gives the unions a bigger say than it would otherwise have in the formulation of national policies, it may also constrain NTUC’s ability to act with greater autonomy, because it has to consider the views of other PAP ministers – if it wants to continue to reap the gains of the partnership” – the statistical outcomes for workers may clearly indicate the failure of such a system to protect worker’s rights.

Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.