Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 07:52 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Singapore

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Singapore, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 13 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: 5,080,000
Capital: Singapore

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957)) (denounced)
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: none reported
Attempted Murders: none reported
Threats: none reported
Injuries: none reported
Arrests: none reported
Imprisonments: none reported
Dismissals: none reported

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Foreign domestic workers still have little opportunity to organise to defend their rights or demand improvements in their conditions of work. Trade union activities remains strictly regulated and the authorities have broad powers to intervene. Singapore was one of only nine states that did not vote for passage of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.


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, which requires a permit for any "cause-related activity," defined as a show of support for or against a position, person, group, or government, even if only one person takes part.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has been in power since 1959, occupies 81 of the 87 parliamentary seats that have full voting rights. In the May 2011 elections, PAP retained power with the smallest margin of popular votes (60.1%) since independence.

Despite recommendations contained in the UN's first Universal Periodic Review of Singapore, Singapore refused to consider the repeal of its Internal Security Act and other laws that permit detention without charge when the executive branch claims national security or public order is threatened. Singapore was one of only nine states that did not vote for passage of International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers.

With the exception of five unions, the rest of the country's 60 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. The NTUC-PAP relationship, which dates back to 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 at least 14 PAP MPs with direct or former ties to the NTUC.

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. While government employees are prohibited from joining trade unions, the President has the right to make exceptions to this provision. Exceptions have been made and all government officers and employees, except members of the Singapore Police Force, the Civil Defence Force, the Singapore Armed Forces, the Prisons Services and the Narcotics Services, can join trade unions. 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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Need to update labour laws: 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. There were no strikes in 2011.

Rights of foreign domestic workers and other migrant workers still 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 Ministry of Manpower statistics, at the end of 2010, the total work force in Singapore was 3,105,900 with 1,113,200 (35.8%) noted as non-residents.

A government-mandated standard contract for migrant workers does not address issues such as long work hours and poor living conditions. Instead of guaranteeing one day off per month and a set number of rest hours a day, it makes such breaks a matter of negotiation between employer and employee. It also fails to provide protections against denial of annual or medical leave (though employer-provided medical insurance is required), requires immediate deportation of pregnant workers, and stipulates that no foreign domestic workers may marry a Singaporean. Some 4,000 foreign maids ran away from their employers' in 2010 according to their embassies and shelters for foreign workers. Most complained they were homesick or stressed by difficult work conditions. Since April 2011, Singaporean employment agencies can charge a worker a fee not exceeding one month of his salary, for each year of the duration of the approved Work Pass or employment contract, whichever is shorter, subject to a maximum of two months' salary. Separately, agencies are required to refund to workers 50% of any fee charged if the worker's employment is prematurely terminated within six months of its commencement, and it is not terminated by the worker.

The NTUC advocates for the rights of foreign domestic workers and other migrant workers through its Migrant Workers' Forum. It 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. Since its opening, the MWC has provided emergency housing and/or food assistance to more than 460 workers and employment-related advice, advocacy services and representation in case resolution to more than 2,000 workers. The MWC also runs enrichment courses benefitting more than 1,800 workers. The MWC has promoted "Fair Employment Practices & Treatment of Migrant Workers" to more than 70,000 migrant workers and employers through various platforms.


No entry for this country for this year

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