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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Singapore

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Singapore, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4,700,000
Capital: Singapore
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 (denounced) – 138 – 182

The vast majority of unionised workers are members of a union affiliated to the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which serves as a proxy for the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). Trade union activities are strictly regulated, and the authorities have broad powers to intervene.

Trade union rights in law

Although basic trade union rights are recognised, they are subject to restrictions. The Constitution guarantees the right to join and form trade unions, however Parliament may impose limitations on formation on grounds of security, public order or morality. The Registrar also has vast powers to refuse to register a union or cancel registration, and may decide whether to approve a new union's rules or changes to an existing union's rules. Government employees are prohibited from joining trade unions, although the President has the right to make exceptions to this provision. Foreign nationals' access to union official posts is subject to permission by the Minister of Manpower. Furthermore, unions may not freely determine how to use their funds.

While the right to collective bargaining is recognised, all collective agreements must be certified by the tripartite Industrial Arbitration Court, which can refuse certification on the grounds of public interest. Union democracy is hampered by the fact that union members no longer have the power to accept or reject collective agreements negotiated on their behalf.

In addition, in limited situations, the law provides for compulsory arbitration by the request of only one of the parties to an industrial dispute. To call a strike, 50% plus one of all the trade union's members must vote in favour, and there is no specific legal protection for striking workers.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Restrictions not applied: Practice suggests that many of the laws are outdated, as in reality many of the potential restrictions on trade union rights are not applied. The unions have called for these outdated restrictions to be removed from the country's legislation.

Close ties with ruling party: With the exception of six unions, the rest of the country's 62 unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which is closely linked to the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). The NTUC Secretary General currently serves on the PAP Central Executive Committee. The NTUC secretary general also holds a seat in the Cabinet as a minister in the Prime Minister's Office. Trade unions may not contribute to political parties, and the NTUC does not permit members supportive of opposition policies to hold office. The NTUC-PAP relationship, which dates back to the founding of the NTUC in 1961, is described as "symbiotic" and was formally endorsed in 1980 at the NTUC Ordinary Delegates Conference. It was publicly reaffirmed in December 2004. Currently, there are 16 PAP MPs with direct or former ties to the NTUC.

Strikes scarcely practised: The government's tight rein on industrial action, and the tradition of non-confrontational industrial relations, has meant that there have been only two officially recorded days of strike action since 1978. However, strike actions have occasionally occurred. There were no strikes in 2009.

Migrant workers' rights restricted: Restrictions on migrant workers' rights to serve as an officer, trustee or staff member of a union (without prior written approval by the Minister) affect a significant percentage of the country's workforce. According to the government's Ministry of Manpower, at the end of 2007 the total work force in Singapore was 2,730,000 with 900,800 (33%) noted as foreign workers.

Foreign domestic workers' difficulties to organise: Foreign domestic workers have little opportunity to organise to defend their rights or demand improvements in their conditions of work. Labour laws exclude approximately 180,000 migrant domestic workers from key protections guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day off, limits on working hours, annual leave, paid holidays, and caps on salary deductions.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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