Trade Unions in Singapore

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Trade union is a labor union of craftspeople or workers in related crafts, as distinguished from general workers or a union including all workers in an industry (Dictionary. com 2010). It is a de facto of the government, and they as often act as government representatives to workers’ trade union. It compromises those who are not part of the elite society. (Michael D. Barr, 2000, page 480). In this essay, I will first discuss the characteristics of trade union in Singapore which will include a brief history. I will also give my opinion of Michael D. Barr’s article if Singapore is a trade union. Secondly, I will continue my writing with the characteristic of trade union in China including a brief history, and my opinion of Taylor and Qi Li’s articles if china is a trade union. Lastly, I will conclude the essay by comparing and contrasting these two trade unions. Trade Union in Singapore In 1961, the non-communist party National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), being the sole union movement in Singapore, was formed. As NTUC and People’s Action Party (PAP) (government) shares common goals, it worked closely with the PAP, forming a system, the tripartite system which was well established. This is a system whereby PAP government, employers and employees work together for the benefit of all parties (Michael D. Barr, 2000, page 480). NTUC as the National Federation of trade unions made up of working people in the industrial, service and public sectors consisting of 60 affiliated unions and 6 taxi associations. Today, the NTUC has 540,000 members. 9 cooperatives and 6 related organizations that are founded to serve the needs of its members. After reading the article (Trade Unions in an Elitist Society: The Singapore Society), I agree with the journalist, Michael D. Barr’s opinion that Singapore is not a trade union. Firstly, in accordance to the definition stated, trade union comprise of those who are not in the elite group. However, some of the NTUC union leaders are members of the government. For instance, the current Secretary General of the NTUC is a also a PAP member of Parliament, a Minister without portfolio working in the Prime Minister office, and the chairman or deputy chairman of several government bodies (Singapore Government Directory, 2000)’. Secondly, Secretary General of NTUC’s senior official, Lim Chee Onn, proclaimed that both the PAP and NTUC “came from the same mother --- the struggles with the communist and the colonists” (The Sunday Times, 1982). Although he claimed that the NTUC and the government had common goals, the NTUC is just like a “vehicle of government policy”. Barr’s article also pointed out that in the 1960s the NTUC was formed ‘so that’ the government was able to fight against with the communist parties to maintain a democratic society (non- communist) in Singapore. Thirdly, Trade Union leaders are appointed by union members, but NTUC was being controlled by the government. In 1982, with 91 percent of union votes, Lim Chee Onn was re-elected as Secretary General. But after 11 month of re-election, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote a letter to him. This was an inform letter, that Lim would have to leave the NTUC and take charge of a Government Ministry and other member, Ong Teng Cheong, a member of parliament (MP) would take over his position as Secretary General (NTUC). This shows that the NTUC was being control by the government to appoint the members to be in its organizational structure. The government has an authority to reject or accept members to lead the Trade Union. In addition, at the time of appointment as Secretary General in NTUC, Ong Teng Cheong was already a chairman of the PAP, and a former minister of Ministry of labor in the government sector. Fourthly, many important decisions are being made by the government. One of the most significant events is the industrial relations event in the 1970s. Lee Kuan Yew took up the decision to modernize the trade union movement to enable it to meet the demands of Singapore’s attempt to move out of low-cost, low skill labor market and into the medium cost medium skill market (Jonathan Rigg, 1988). The NTUC did not stand up to object or give ideas to the decision. According to Caraway, East Asia's labor laws offer similar levels of protection for individual labor rights to the rest of the world when firing costs are taken into account, and low regional averages are primarily an effect of Singapore's extremely weak individual labor rights’(Caraway, 2009). For example, recession hit Singapore in 1985, the union movement ‘agreed’ to have a pay cut of 15%. The government may be the one who suggested it, and employee had no right to disagree with the act. Lastly, trade unions are supposed to be able to insist on having strikes or to fight to achieve goals but it is unlikely to happen in Singapore as the government has a law against that. However, to pre-empt labor disquiet and disinvestment, the governments offer 'credible apologies' that include punishment and monitoring of government when economic performance is less than optimal in the country. When they fail to offer credible apologies, labor and producers respond with strikes and disinvestment. (O Fiona Yap, 2003). In addition, According to Law Society of Singapore official website, under Penal Code (Singapore, 2005) Chapter VIII: Offences against the public tranquility, rioting (S146 and S147) if you are part of an unlawful assembly and force or violence is used, every member is guilty of the offence of rioting even if the degree of participation of each of you is different. You can be jailed up to 5 years and can also be ordered to be caned. With all the evidence shown, I agree with Michael D. Barr that Singapore trade union is not a trade union. It does not fulfill many of the characteristics of a trade union. In my opinion, the NTUC is more like a government sector that fulfill employee needs of learning and development so as to increase their employability. Trade Union in China Unlike NTUC, trade union in China the All China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU) is a communist party. The ACFTU was established in 1925, being the only recognized union in People’s Republic of China (PRC). According to the ACFTU’s official website figures released at the end of September 2006, there are 31 provincial trade union federations, 10 national industrial unions and 1. 324 million grassroots trade union organizations (in 2. 53 million enterprises and institutions) associated with the ACFTU. While protecting the overall interests of the people, the ACFTU aim to stand up for workers, protect workers' interests, fulfill their social functions of protection, construction, participation and education in an all-rounded manner, give prominence to the protective function of trade unions, and unite with and mobilize the masses of workers to strive for the realization of the country's socialist modernization (All-China Federation of Trade Unions Official English website, 2007). Today, as China has increasingly economic power, ACFTU is working very hard to keep up with its trade unions power. After reading the article (Is the ACFTU a Union and Does It Matter? ), I agree with Taylor & Li’s opinion that China is not officially a Trade Union. Firstly, I will start with the relationship between ACFTU and Chinese Communist Party (CCP). CCP is a party that has authority to control the government. ACFTU as a part of the government is also controlled by the party. Therefore, it means that ACFTU not only serves the government in government interest, but in its role in serving the interest of the CCP so as to aid in managing government matters (Taylor and Li, 2007, page 707). In other words, ACFTU is working closely together with government instead of by itself. Secondly, Union leaders in ACFTU can be from the elite group of the society with many positions. For example at the Ninth Trade Congress, held in October 1978, a member of the CCP’s Politburo, Ni Zhi fu, became chairman of the ACFTU (Feng Cheng, 2009, page 668). The CCP and the government have the right to reject or accept a union leader. This shows that union leaders are being appointed instead of elected. Thirdly, as the ACFTU is the sole movement of trade union in China (with no other opposition party), employees are lacking the power to fight for their rights. As many finances in the union are sponsored by the government, if any party of the union were to go against the government, the CCP and the government have the right to remove its sponsorship from any department. For example, if any one of the union member is to go against the government decision, CCP or the government can remove their sponsorship. This will affect ACFTU directly, as they will not have enough money to pay its workers and to continue its operations. Therefore, the reason the workers do not turn to the union is not ideological distaste, but is simply because the unions are generally incompetent or incapable of acting on the workers’ behalf (Taylor and Li, 2007, pg 709). Lastly, being the one and only large organization, the ACFTU is characterized as a bureaucratic union, with highly focus group of authority, and incumbent problems of inflexibility, accountability and performance (Taylor and Li, 2007, page 703). Although China’s union has a vertical organizational structure paralleling that of the party and government, the ACFTU is far less able than the party and government to exercise authority over its grassroots organizational cells—in fact, they are subject to the complete control of management. The union, thus, has administrative power but no effective enforcement units. (Feng Cheng, 2009, Pg 664). For example, if there is any conflict among the subordinate and the superior, union bureaucracies acted as a middle man between protesting partied. They will have to accept the ‘mediate’ of the union bureaucracy as it sort of a government ‘command’. With all the supporting evidences, I agree with the point that China is not really a trade union. Different from Singapore, China trade union work closely together to promote both workers and the government interest. Overview In comparison, both Singapore and China trade unions are ‘not really a trade union’ as the unions operates with the aid of the government. They have many factors in common. Firstly, the two unions are trying to promote employees interest in their countries and both are the only union in their countries respectively. Secondly, the union leaders of the 2 countries are mostly from the elite group. In addition, union leaders are being elected by the government instead of being appointed by the union members. However, there are differences between the 2 unions. First, Singapore’s trade union the NTUC is a non-communist party but in China, the ACFTU is a pro-communist party. The working structure of the 2 unions is different too. NTUC is a parallel organizational structure but the ACFTU works in a vertical organizational structure. In conclusion, although these 2 trade unions do not fulfill the requirement(s) of a trade union, it works to a common of giving the employees in all industry a helping hand. Today, both trade unions are improving themselves to maintain a peace working environment in their countries. (Word count 1989) References • All China Federation of Trade Union official English webpage on http://english. acftu. org sighted on 15 October 2003 Hits: 2465 and on 20 September 2007 Hits: 4841 Barr, M 2000, ‘Trade unions in an elitist society: The Singapore story’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 480-96. • Caraway, Journal of East Asian Studies [1598-2408], Labor rights in East Asia: Progress or regress? , Vol: 9 Issue:2 pg: 153 -186, 2009 United States • Feng Chen, ‘Union Power in China Source, Operation, and Constraints’, Modern China, 2009 pg 664 • Dictionary. com Unabridged on http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/trade+union based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2010. • Jonathan Rigg, ‘Singapore and Recession in 1895’, Asian Survey, 28, 3, 1988, page 342 and 343 O Fiona Yap Non-electoral responsiveness mechanisms: Evidence from the Asian less democratic newly industrializing countries (British Journal of Political Science; Jul 2003; 33, ABI/INFORM Global page 491) • Singapore Government Directory interactive on http://ferari. nmi. net. sg/ sighted on 10 May 2000 • The Singapore Law Society Directory interactive on http://www. lawsociety. org. sg/public/you_and_the_law/youthcrime/cp_public0. htm sighted on 2005 • Taylor, B & Qi Li, 2007, ‘Is the ACFTU a union and does it matter? ’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 701-15. • The Sunday Times [Singapore], 2 May 1982
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