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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Singapore

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Singapore, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 19 October 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 government ratified the ILO Tripartite Consultation Convention in October. Migrant workers' rights at work are still not fully regulated and foreign domestic workers remain particularly open to abuse. Trade union activities are strictly regulated, and the authorities have broad powers to intervene.


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. While government employees are prohibited from joining trade unions, the President has the right to make exceptions to this provision and 16 public sector unions have been granted such exemptions. 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. The court can refuse certification on grounds of public interest, although it has never done so. Union democracy is limited 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.


Background: The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has been in power since 1959, and occupies 82 of the 84 parliamentary seats that have full voting rights. Current Singaporean laws and policies on freedom of expression, assembly and association sharply limit peaceful criticism of the government. Of particular concern is the 2009 Public Order Act. With the exception of five unions, the rest of the country's 60 unions are affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which has close ties with the PAP. The NTUC Secretary General currently serves on the PAP Central Executive Committee and holds a seat in the Cabinet as a minister in the Prime Minister's 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. Currently, there are 18 PAP MPs with direct or former ties to the NTUC while another 48 PAP MPs serve as appointed NTUC advisors. In October, Singapore ratified ILO Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976 (No. 144).

Migrant workers' rights still restricted: While restrictions on migrant workers' rights to serve as an officer, trustee or staff member of a union (without prior written approval by the Minister) are still in place, all migrant workers, including foreign domestic workers, are allowed to join unions. A government-mandated standard contract for migrant workers provides some protection to foreign domestic workers.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) advocates for the rights of foreign domestic workers and other migrant workers through its Migrant Workers' Forum. It has also set up the Migrant Workers Centre (MWC) together with the Singapore National Employers' Federation in April 2009 to champion fair employment practices and the well-being of migrant workers in Singapore. The MWC provides employment-related advice, advocacy services and representation to migrant workers.

Need to update labour laws: The government's tight rein on industrial action, the tradition of non-confrontational industrial relations and the adequate dispute resolution mechanisms have meant that there have been only two officially recorded days of strike action since 1978. There were no strikes in 2010. However, practice suggests that many of Singapore's labour 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.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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