The future is not pre-determined.
It will be decided by how
we shape up as a people.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Speeding Into The Future
From the 70s onwards, the seeds of tripartism that were planted began to bear fruit in many ways to improve workers’ lives and the country as a whole. NTUC built upon the strong foundation laid to play an everincreasing role.
Moving Towards Greater Co-operation
Working As A Team
“We want labour and management and Government pulling together as a team.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
“We changed the attitude of antagonism by employees towards their employers to one of fair bargaining and accounts of employers open for inspection. This led to co-operation in the National Wages Council with the Government, unions and employers. This is a unique system which has served us well. It has stopped unions from being adversaries to squeeze employers out of business. Instead, they have teamed up with the Government and employers in a tripartite system which has brought benefits to workers, the Government and employers because industrial peace creates confidence and increases foreign investments. Whenever employers make above average rates of return on capital, profits are shared.”
More Value For Money
“Any wholesaler who withholds popular or fashionable goods in great demand from this co-op supermarket to give to his pet retail network will be bucking not only the Labour Movement but also the Government.
“If this supermarket is well-supported and well managed, we shall know what the wholesale price is and what the retail price with profit can be. Then we shall have a yardstick to measure by how much other retailers are putting up prices.
“We shall know definitely whether they are profiteering, or whether they cannot get the goods at normal wholesale prices at which the supermarket buys because of market manipulation by wholesalers or other middlemen.”
Surging Into The New Economy With New Technology
“I launched a productivity movement in the early 1980s because I was impressed by Japanese practitioners. I encouraged NTUC leaders to work with management to introduce Quality Control Circles (QCCs), groups of workers who together put up suggestions on how to improve work, save time and costs and achieve zero defects.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
“In the early days of industrialisation, unions were formed to protect large groups of depersonalised workers operating in mass production lines under bad conditions. Now, you get management, big or small, very anxious to incorporate their workers into their production organisations, to get the co-operation of their workers and to raise productivity.”
“The old trade union concepts, unless they are updated, are just irrelevant. We have got to move along with the times. I’m not saying we don’t have troublesome employers. But I think troublesome employers will soon run into trouble with their profits, because if they don’t get the co-operation of their workers, their competitor who does get the co-operation of his workers will beat them.”
Unionists Shaping Policies
“From the early 1980s, we put trade union leaders on key statutory boards so that they will understand and shape the policies of the boards. It is especially valuable for our public organisations to have the voice of the unionists on public policies. They were our channels for feedback and helped refine our policies. It made union leaders take ownership of these policies, so they mobilised their fellow unionists and their workers to make them successful.”
Agents Of Change
“Our trade union leaders and their members have been agents of change. Unlike the old British and European trade unions, they accepted new technology and new ways of working. They helped workers overcome the risk of unemployment due to the increasing use of computers and other new technologies.
“Together with the Government, they set up computer appreciation classes for the workers. As a result, workers did not fear becoming redundant because of computers or have their pay reduced. Instead, the training in the use of computers helped the workers increase their productivity and wages.”
The unions’ major role in Singapore today is to protect the future of our workers. The unions must insist on retraining and skills upgrading programmes because that is the future. Technology is changing so fast that if we don’t get our workers up to mark, they may be out of jobs because they cannot work the new machines that come in…”
Improving Workers’ Lives
“NTUC has another big role which Ithink is as crucial as improving wages and benefits — that is to provide facilities for the workers. Besides training, give them all the amenities so that they also can share in different kinds of lifestyle of the bosses…”
“…Collectively, NTUC can bargain with all these companies — whether they be the big stores or recreation centres, the zoo or the bird park, or Sentosa — you can always bargain and get lower prices. And NTUC FairPrice can give you some money back, besides selling at low prices.”
“I had encouraged him (then NTUC Secretary-General Ong Teng Cheong) in this, but he needed little encouragement. What he required were financial resources and political support, which I gave him.”
From the early 1980s, NTUC started developing its recreational capabilities like NTUC Club, NTUC Pasir Ris Resort, Sentosa chalets and the Orchid Country Club among others.
“If the bosses have their golf clubs, you have your golf club. If the bosses have got their resorts, you have your resorts. If they can go to Sentosa, you can go to Sentosa. Maybe you are not so plush but no sector, no area of enjoyment or recreation, or sports, or learning or culture, should be closed to the unions.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Strengthening Labour Leadership
Setting Up A Labour College
“For many years, I had been urging the NTUC to set up a labour college. In 1990, with help from the principal of Ruskin College, Teng Cheong (then NTUC Secretary- General Ong Teng Cheong) established an Institute of Labour Studies to teach industrial relations and leadership development.”
Beefing Up NTUC
“In the 1990s, I encouraged promising returned scholars to take up full-time careers in the NTUC to beef up its research and negotiating capabilities. With universal education and numerous scholarships, by then all the bright children of poor parents had made it to university. Able union leaders who rose from the ranks became few and far between.”
Moving In Tandem To Succeed
“The close co-operation between the political and the union leadership made modern Singapore. It is both history and today’s reality. We have advanced because the Government and the unions moved in tandem. Promising unionists were fielded by PAP to be Members of Parliament. And PAP Members of Parliament with no union experience have been inducted into union activities. The future of Singapore depends on our strengthening this symbiosis between Government and unions. We must strengthen then these relationships to make the future secure.”
Into the 21 Century
Taking stock of the past, and setting new goals and directions.
The Labour Movement faces up to new challenges and moves with the changing needs of today’s and tomorrow’s workers.
A Common Vision
The history of the NTUC from 1961 to 2001 is a reflection of the history of the development of Singapore. Can you imagine what Singapore would be like if we had had adversarial trade unions constantly at odds with the employers and the Government?
“Because PAP leaders in Government were always alive to and aware of the need to preserve the interests of the workers, we were able to achieve rapid economic development but did not sacrifice the interests of the workers…”
“…Because of my strong links with unionists from the 1950s fighting for independence, I was able to get the NTUC leaders to accept difficult measures because they did not doubt my intentions. And the Government has not let the unions down. We convinced the leaders, and through them, the workers that the changes were indeed in their best interests.
“The NTUC and the Government together, however, had to demonstrate that they had a common vision, a shared sense of purpose to advance the interests of the workers. Singapore could not have succeeded with a demoralised Labour Movement.”
“If you look at membership, in most countries the trade union membership has gone down. In Singapore, it’s not gone down, it’s gone up. Why? Because at the end of the day results count…”
“…We have done well. You have done well because you have produced results for your union members. If you’ve not produced results, you’ll be out. Why should they stay with you? They will form another union. There’s no law against that.”
Unions Must Move Quickly
“Somehow, in every downturn, we’ve got to cater for everybody. That’s the advantage of being a Singaporean, that’s the advantage of having a government. And the trade union movement in Singapore’s role is to keep abreast with the developments on the ground because the Ministry of Manpower cannot tell us as quickly as you can about what’s happening on the ground.
“The Ministry of Manpower collects data after the event but you can tell us as it’s happening and that’s your job and we will make amendments and make adjustments immediately, as quickly as we can.”
It’s Always About Workers
“In Government, I have never forgotten that it is in the interest of the workers and their unions that we must strive for growth and development. In other words, growth is meaningless unless it is shared by the workers, shared not only directly in wage increases but indirectly in better homes, better schools, better hospitals, better playing fields and, generally, a healthier environment for families to bring up their children. I am glad that since I stood down as Prime Minister, successive Prime Ministers, first PM Goh Chok Tong, now PM Lee Hsien Loong, both had the same policies — pro-worker, pro-trade unions.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Better All The Time
“I wish you many more years of active work for the workers and their unions, working with the Government and the employers on equal terms… Your challenge now is keep up with the fast pace of economic transformation, and help our workers — young and old, professionals and rank-and-file — to secure better jobs, better pays and live a better life for many more years to come.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
The watershed NTUC National
Delegates’ Conference in 2011 was an important milestone when several senior NTUC Central Committee members stepped down to make way for younger leaders. At the NTUC Labour Leadership Appreciation Dinner held on 30 January 2012 to pay tribute to nine leaders who had stepped down, Mr Lee stressed that tripartism, PAPNTUC symbiosis and successful leadership renewal can never be taken for granted.
Speaking Up For Unions
“I have tried to get trade union members elected into Parliament. It is becoming increasingly difficult because with so many opportunities for education, very few people who can get to university do not get there. So there’s almost no university quality people in the rank-and file of the unions…”
“…If you want every union leader to spring up from the grassroots, to start off as a blue-collar worker, you will have very uneducated leadership which will be very bad for the unions.
“So we’ve got to find new ways to twine them. It’s like what we have done. We now have the Nominated MP. He is a grassroots leader. He can speak up for union causes and he does so.”
Making A Qualitative Difference
“To maintain the symbiotic relationship between the PAP Government and the NTUC, I encouraged the NTUC to get some MPs to work full-time with the unions and to appoint others as advisers to various unions. These MPs raised issues in Parliament.
“Such additions to the unions’ manpower capabilities made a qualitative difference. Without their disciplined intellectual input and their easy access to ministers, the case for the unions would not be put across in a way that would command attention and from time to time bring about a revision of policies.”
Championing The Spirit Of Tripartism
“The situation that we have, co-operation between unions, employers and Government, did not come about by accident. We strived very hard; instead of infighting, we try and get each party to understand their obligations, their responsibilities to each other. And because we succeeded in that, we created an environment that invited foreign investments, confidence in the future in today’s Singapore.”
Mr Lee Kuan Yew