The recent strike by SMRT bus drivers has gotten a lot of media attention. One reason is because labour disputes are relatively rare in Singapore – the last time Singapore had striking workers was in 1986.
In Singapore, strikes are illegal unless they follow the rules stipulated in the Trade Unions Act and Trade Disputes Act. More stringent rules apply under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act to essential service workers, such as public bus and air transport workers, who have to give their employer 14 days’ notice of their intention to strike amongst other restrictions.
Anyone involved in an illegal strike can be fined up to S$2,000 and/or jailed for up to a year under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and any person found guilty under the Trade Disputes Act can be fined up to $2,000 and/or jailed up to six months.
How, then, are workers’ rights protected in Singapore?
1) The Law
The Employment Act covers employment rights and conditions, including work hours, leave, salary, retrenchment, etc, for every employee, regardless of nationality, except for certain groups of employees. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigates claims and complaints on salary matters and other terms and conditions of employment for employees covered by the Employment Act.
2) Migrant Worker Centre (MWC)
The MWC is a non-government organisation that advocates fair employment practices and well-being of migrant workers in Singapore. The centre extends assistance to the workers when they have disputes with their employers, including those who have been abandoned by employers. It also facilitates social acceptance and integration of migrant workers through outreach activities and public education.
3) Employee Trade Unions
Unions can represent workers to negotiate with their employers. Members of unions also enjoy industrial relations benefits, like grievance-handling and social welfare benefits.
Chatroom: Yeo Guat Kwang & Desmond Choo; Educating foreign workers on unions. (2012, December 1). The Straits Times [Singapore]. Retrieved from Factiva.com on 2012, December 5.
Wong, T. (2012, November 30). SMRT’s union culture ‘not as evident’. The Straits Times [Singapore]. Retrieved from Factiva.com on 2012, December 5.
Toh, Y. C. (2012, November 28). End of 26-year strike-free spell in Singapore. The Straits Times [Singapore]. Factiva.com on 2012, December 5.
Ministry of Manpower website. Retrieved from http://www.mom.gov.sg on 2012, December 5.
Singapore Statutes Online. Retrieved from http://statutes.agc.gov.sg on 2012, December 5.