IMPORTANCE OF LABOUR MOVEMENT IN SINGAPORE
Mr Wong, who is also Singapore’s Finance Minister, last month launched a year-long exercise to review and refresh Singapore’s social compact.
Known as Forward Singapore, a report will be published in mid-2023 after its conclusion, setting out policy recommendations to underpin the country’s refreshed social compact and highlight how different segments of society can be more involved in contributing towards its shared goals.
In his speech last month, Mr Wong said that as the world around Singapore and Singapore’s own society changes, the country can turn challenges into opportunities if it strengthens its social compact.
“If our social compact fails, a large segment of Singaporeans will come to feel estranged from the rest of society, believing the system is not on their side.
“Trust in the Government and among various segments of society will plummet. Politics will turn nasty and polarised. We will become a low-trust society like so many others in Asia and Europe, and Singapore will surely fracture.”
During his speech on Sunday, Mr Wong spoke of how Singapore has consciously and deliberately set out to make the labour movement a key partner in governing the country.
He also spoke of how labour relations have deteriorated in many developed countries, with trade union membership declining “considerably”.
“The state of labour relations in any society is a litmus test of how strong that society is, how strong their social compact is,” he said.
“When the working class becomes a permanent under-class, with very little prospects for advancement, they lose faith in the system, and trust breaks down,” he said. “This is what you see happening in many developed countries.”
While some countries are seeing a resurgence of unionisation efforts – for example in the US, where workers from companies such as Starbucks and Amazon are starting unions to fight for their rights – this is “an uphill battle”, said Mr Wong.
This is because many big companies see unions as harmful to their own growth and profits, and therefore try to “clamp down” on them.
“As a result, trust between employer and workers breaks down further,” he said.
Many of these societies have become “fraught with tension” as there is no consensus on how to move forward to implement important issues and progress becomes more elusive.
Singapore could learn from these examples, particularly younger unionists, workers and students, he said.
“We should never take for granted the harmonious tripartite relations we enjoy,” he said, adding that these are “neither a given nor a natural state of affairs”.
Singapore should also do its “utmost to not just preserve what we have inherited, but to make it better”, he added.
To do that, the NTUC must continue to be forward-looking and progressive, especially as Singapore refreshes its social compact.
Singapore’s unions must also stay relevant to the changing landscape, be responsive to fresh challenges and be representative of a changing workforce, he said.
“If the NTUC remains strong, then we can take heart that we are moving in the right direction, and Singapore will continue to be successful.”