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Trade Unions in Singapore

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Resources
Wordcount: 2114 words Published: 16th May 2017

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Critical Issues in Industrial Relations and

Human Resource Management

Singapore has a very unique partnership in the country. It has three forms, such as Government, Union, and Management. The following paragraphs below are the main historical of the Singapore from 1950 up to now.


In 1959, Singapore became a self-governing state and the People’s Action Party (PAP) was elected as the first local government. Then, it governed in the Second Industrial Revolution. Hence, it facilitates to lead Singapore in three headings, such as steps to educate and train workers, steps to promote productivity, and institutional changes to influence the attitude of labor and management. (Anantaraman, 1990)

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In the following years, Singapore has separated into two parties. The pro-communist faction formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU), and the non-communist group set up the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). It was set up in 1961. The main objectives of NTUC are, to improve the employment conditions of workers, to promote good labor management relations, to upgrade the skills of workers, to take part in international decision making process, to organize educational, cultural and other activities, to work with union around the world. (Huat, 1995) In order to reduce uneducated problem, the Singapore government promote student to study overseas, like China and Indonesia. The Committee to Promote Enterprise Overseas recommended several measures to enhance more people to work overseas.

In 1965, Singapore became independent nation. Then, in 1968, Singapore faced a major crisis. The British government decided to withdraw its military bases from Singapore. This meant the loss of jobs for about 20,000 Singapore civilians. Therefore, the government introduced and amended The Employment Act and The Industrial Relations Act, respectively. The purposes of Industrial Relations Act are, to give more managerial power to employer. For example, power for promotion, transferring, retirement, retrenchment, dismissal, and many others. (Huat, 1995)

Moreover, the purposes of Employment Act are, providing better protection for more workers, increasing flexibility for employers, and enhancing enforcement of and compliance with employment standards. Therefore, there are existed standardization of working conditions, elimination of restrictive practices by unions, and outcome of the two Acts. The industrial relations scene became relatively peaceful and investor confidence was restored, where more than 35 percent of Singapore’s workers were employed in the twenty-year ahead, which was in 1988. (Huat, 1995)


In 1972, the Ministry of Labor announced that National Wage Council (NWC) has established and it is a tripartite body with three representatives each from labor, management, and government. The council is essentially a national guideline on wages, bonus, and benefits. There are some reasons to accept the guidelines, such as perception of the guidelines as neutral, government’s willingness to use the legislative process and amend labor laws to help implement the council’s recommendations, and The Ministry of Labor used the guidelines to sell disputes on wages through conciliation. (Anantaraman, 1990) Hence, the rationale for wage restraint was to pursue the anti-inflitionary wage policy to ensure that the wage increase as well as productivity. For example, Singaporeans as a result benefited from annual wage increases of 8% to 10% from 1972 through 1984. (Beng & Chew, 1996)

By the late 1970s, the government changed its strategic focustoskill and technology-intensive, high value-added industries and away from labor-intensive manufacturing. Trade Unions Act was amended to reflect the new role of trade unions. The main objectives are, such as following,

Collective bargaining

The union representatives are negotiated with the employers. The union seeks the better terms and conditions for the employments.

Safeguarding jobs

A union protects the jobs of its members so that they are not dismissed arbitrarily.

Cooperating with the employers

Relationship between employers and workers is necessary for the sake of both of them.

For example, they tend to resolve disputes in a mutually acceptable manner.

Political activities

Many political parties seek support from the union leaders even though their members are free to vote for any candidates. That is because the unions exerted pressure on the government for laws or reforms which will benefit the workers.

Social activities

The unions provide financial supports for their member, such as sickness, unemployment, retirement, and death. Then, the unions also use their resources to provide recreational facilities. (Huat, 1995)

The impacts of trade union act are, such as following,

Trade union movement was started after Labor Modernization Seminar. The union leaders had decided to do more than collective bargaining, like the wider perspective thought about workers who also the co-owner of society as consumers, tenants, and others.

There is lack of time and multiple responsibilities of women as workers, wives, and mothers, and also lack of confidence to vie in term of leadership position. Hence, in 1976, the NTUC form a Women’s Programme Secretariat in order to enable more women to work and there exist Social Welfare Department to take over the management of ten childcare centres. (Huat, 1995)


In 1981, The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) was formed in order to help members maintain good labor management relations and to encourage productivity for the benefit of members, employees, the economy of Singapore, and implementing NWC guidelines. (Beng & Chew, 1995) This included wide range of services, such as consultancy services, training and development, information service, and job evaluation service.

In the 1982 amendment to the Trade Union Act, the role of trade unions was defined as promoting good industrial relations between workers and employers; improving working conditions; and improving productivity for the mutual benefit of workers, employers, and the country. Moreover, this act impact on promoting the welfare of its members as well as providing well-being of workers and their families. (Tan, 2007)

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In December 1986, sub-comittee’s was recommended the guidelines within the NWC for a flexible wage-system. Then, the guidelines were approved by the Government, Trade Union, and employers. For example, a Basic Wage with a modest service increment of about 2 percent a year. Annual wage can increase if workers have already obliged under the provisions of a contract of service or a collective agreement to pay an annual wage and bonus. (Hian & Teck, 1985)

In 1994, the leaders and members of trade unions are forming May Day in order to improving the quality of life of workers of Singapore because our workers must be fairly paid and be justly treated to enable them work with dignity and pride. Moreover, this May Day might be strengthened the labor movement through ongoing recruitment drives, improved productivity, upgraded the level of skills of our workers, strengthened the framework of our tripartite partnership with government and employers, so that can continue the industrial peace, social harmony, and economic growth. (Huat, 1995)

In 1995, the government reduced the tax rate for computing non-resident reliefs. Hence, many foreigners are attracted to come to Singapore, such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines. Then, Singapore has developed in term of industries and others due to foreigners because about three-quarters of Singapore’s manufacturing output was produced by wholly- or partly- owned foreign firms (Mauzy & Milne, 2002) Therefore, due to the good industrial relation with foreigners, Singapore has obtained the basis of higher production with minimum cost and higher profits. (Morris, et al, 2002)

21st century

In recent years, the Trade Unions Act defines a trade union as any association or combination of workmen or employers, whether temporary or permanent. The purposes are, to promote good industrial relation between workmen and employers, to improve working conditions of both of their economic and social status, and to achieve the raising productivity and the economics of Singapore for the benefit of them. (Government of Singapore, 2012)

There are still some aspects of Singapore legal culture which remain largely unchanged. For example, the traditional Confucian respect for law and authority. The legal culture helps to account for the general law-abiding character of Singapore society and the general tolerance of a strong, paternalistic government. (Chan, 1986)

Hence, the Act that has established in the past will aslo slowly to change and even has improved every several years. For example, Trade Union Act, Employment Act, Industrial Relations Act, and People Action’s Party. Hence, the government has built low-cost housing units so that housing would be within the means of the poorer classes of the public. (Leong, 1990)

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has effort in three areas, such as creating better jobs and incomes for Singaporeans, achieving inclusive growth and retirement adequacy, and making workplace better and safer. (Government of Singapore, 2014)

In 2006, the (TAFEP) was following the recommendation of the three committees on Employability of Older Workers. It promotes employment practices that are fair and equitable to all workers.

In 2007, TAFEP opened its doors on 20 November 2007 to promote greater awareness of fair employment practices among employers and the general public.

TAFEP also receives feedback from the public on their discrimination experiences and provides advice and assistance to those who have experienced discrimination at the workplace.

In conclusion, all the Acts that the three committees have established have different purposes, yet have same big line which is maintain and protect the workers and citizen in Singapore. Hence, it would be very useful when people are sustained the Acts by doing the regulations. In addition, all the Acts are moving to be better in every period.


Anantaraman, V. (1990): Singapore Industrial Relations System, Singapore: Singapore Institute of Management.

Beng, C.S. and Chew, R. (1995): Employment-Driven Industrial Relations Regimes, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Beng, C.S. and Chew, R. (1996): Industrial Relations in Singapore Industry, Singapore: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc..

Chan, H.H.M. (1986): ‘An Introduction to the Singapore Legal System’, Malayan Law Journal, 6: 133-34.

Government of Singapore. 2012. Trade Unions. [Online] Available at: http://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/tradeunions/Pages/default.aspx [5 June 2014].

Government of Singapore. 2014. Committee of Supply Highlights 2014. [Online]

Available at: http://www.mom.gov.sg/aboutus/Pages/cos-2014.aspx [5 June 2014].

Hian, C.C. and Teck, F.C. (1985): ‘A Casebook on Industrial Relations and Employment Practices in Singapore’, Employment, 48(12): 35-6.

Huat, T.C. (1995): Labour Management Relations in Singapore, Singapore: Prentice Hall.

Leong, A.P.B. (1990): ‘The Development of Singapore Law – Historical and Socio-legal Perspectives’. Malayan Law Journal, 5(1): 331.

Mauzy, D.K. and Milne, R.S. (2002): Singapore Politics Under the People’s Action Party, New York: Routledge.

Morris, H., Willey, B. and Sachdev, S. (2002): Managing in A Business Context-An HR Approach, Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited.

Tan, C.H. (2007): Employment Relations in Singapore, Singapore: Prentice Hall.


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