Is our union & MOM protecting our working class?

For younger Singaporeans, many may wonder who or what NTUC is all about. They see it almost everywhere, from childcare to supermarket, from training centres to hawker centres. Yet despite its local dominance, it was never successful venturing out of Singapore or definitive in what it is really about.

In 1961, when the then Singapore Trade Union Congress “STUC” backed the PAP politically, it split into two factions – NTUC, which is pro-PAP, and the Singapore Association of Trade Union “SATU”. When the leaders of SATU were arrested by the government in the controversial Operation Coldstore in 1963, NTUC went on to become the only trade union in Singapore till present day.

The NTUC was soon drawn into a major controversy in its early years when Phey Yew Kok, who joined them in 1964 and rose rapidly to become their President in 1970, and later as its Chairman, was implicated in 34 corruption charges amounting to S$450,000. These include misappropriation of funds when he was the general secretary of Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation “SILO”. Phey was finally charged some 35 years later in 2016 and sentenced to 60 month jail term.

He remains a very controversial figure till this day. Tan Wah Piow, a student activist from the 70s, and his fellow classmates had persistently alleged that it was Phey who had fabricated the whole riot in the union office of the Singapore Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union in 1974 and that they were not even present at the scene of the incident. They had even cited Phey’s questionable character and his lack of integrity then as a factor but to no avail.

Unlike the present-day NTUC, SILO was generally well-liked by many Singaporeans then as the quality and prices of its basic essential goods were fair & reasonable. Alas, probably due to this “Phey-controversy” or in their need to move forward, SILO was soon “re-organized” and its existence vanished from the memories of many Singaporeans. The present day NTUC was never as consistent as SILO in affording fair prices or as well-liked by Singaporeans who see NTUC as just another commercial entity.

Trade unions were the bedrock of workers’ representation in Singapore after the WWII as many of these migrants were illiterate, isolated from their families or faced severe hunger that they were savagely exploited by unscrupulous employers, secret societies and labour syndicates. Even students were actively involved in their own student unions to fight for their rights and that of their communities and country. If those students were to be unfairly out-placed in polytechnic or universities by foreign students as experienced by our children over these past years, they would have protested rather than languish helplessly.

This begets several questions: is NTUC still a union that is relevant to Singaporeans? Why is NTUC still afforded so much concessions and privileges if it is operating like a commercial entity? What is its real value proposition to Singapore and Singaporeans? Who are its real shareholders or who are they accountable to? Why are so many of our politicians and political activists still “employed” or have their CV polished up with appointments in NTUC? Will NTUC undermine the collective goods of Singapore? If it is so dynamic, why hasn’t NTUC made any real expansion outside of Singapore to help contribute to our economy and create really exceptional jobs for Singaporeans?

It is imperative to be asking these relevant questions about NTUC as Singapore search for its economic future amidst a more challenging global environment. If NTUC is a union, it ought to be non-political and stand on the side of its key stakeholders – the workers or today’s working class. It cannot be in a conflict of interest as political power will always triumph and that means workers will ultimately be the losers. If it is political, where is the real union representation for the workers or our working class? The Hard Truth is that NTUC cannot serve two masters at any one time.

At the enterprising level, if NTUC is a commercial entity, afforded with concessions & privileges, how can we promote local entrepreneurship or create real entrepreneurship when most of the opportunities are swallowed up by this single mammoth-elephant? Take the case of our hawker centres. If NTUC is the manager of almost all of these centres, who or where can the workers or hawkers seek help whenever they encounter unfair employment or trade practices created by NTUC? Isn’t our workers and hawkers representation severely compromised by such conflict of interest?

Isn’t it better to direct such concessions & privileges directly to our entrepreneurs in the private sector so that they could at least use them to build truly competitive enterprises that can regionalize, be pro-Singaporeans in employment and help contribute to our economy? So why then or on what basis was NTUC allowed to monopolize our hawker centres if it cannot regionalize or add real value for Singaporeans and our economy?

In the space of entrepreneurship, not all of them can be globally or regionally exceptional but some of them can still do exceptionally well locally. Shouldn’t our government be putting in place restraints to curb NTUC and some of our GLCs, in sectors such as training centre, childcare or hawker centres, and give these opportunities to our local entrepreneurs or unemployed graduates?

Then the many government grants such as SkillsFuture, Workfare, etc. would be objectively meaningful and not be seen as unproductive transfers to these government-related entities. We can then truly increase the overall value proposition of our SMEs. Isn’t this a much more effective and sustainable option in encouraging entrepreneurship?

In the age of share-economy, many Singaporeans who are out-placed by foreigners from good paying jobs suffered a double-whammy when they are forced to accept very controversial contracts with many of these foreign start-ups just to put food on the table for their families. It is heart-breaking when they are continuously exploited right in our homeland by such unfair trade & employment practices.

Where is NTUC or MOM in all these? Is one waiting for the other to act? Our trade union and MOM must move ahead of the curve and not be languishing behind when fellow-Singaporeans are being exploited almost mercilessly by these profit-centred entities.

Take the case of the existing India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement “CECA” for example. This FTA literally opens the floodgate to the unrestraint flow of Indian professionals into our employment market to replace our own professionals. Over time, many cases of their “fake” qualification & expertise, and bad social-behaviours are beginning to surface, further compounding the issue, and in turn, eroded the Singapore brand.

As in any country, it is the duty of the government to protect the employment of good-paying jobs for its citizens, and no amount of economic trade-offs can ever be justifiable. Where is NTUC in advocating a fair-practices on behalf of working Singaporeans? Why are we trading away the time-tested DNA of our working class? What would foreign investors think about us – that our working class is not worth protecting?

It is not just about the loss of good-paying jobs to foreigners or being against foreign talent. It is about how it distorts the real market cost of goods & services, rapture our collective talent development and breeds corruptions.

Such unrestrained inflow of foreign talents will naturally organize themselves along their respective nationalities. Once they had taken control of the HR department or any critical department, that particular nationality will begin to hire only their own nationality, supported by their “friendly” employment agencies.

In turn, these entities will become less competitive in real economic terms. In simple business terms, it means we are trading away the time-tested DNA of our workforce that had made us uniquely trustworthy. Once real competition heats up, many of these entities will collapse as they are divided internally and lack the real competency or focus in creating good job prospect, processes and comparative advantages for our organisations. Would any real talent join such a dysfunctional-organisation?

When that day comes, many of these foreign talents and their related service-providers would simply uproot themselves, cash out their CPF if they are PRs and move to “greener pastures” and start all over again. What would our government be expected to do then? Be nice to Singaporeans when our economy, public services, critical installations and key organisations are all messed up, just like they do at every election year?

Why are we still signing these FTAs blindly? Is our government being penny wise but pound foolish in seeking “quick-fix” or short-term gain from the income generated by foreign worker levies and their existence-income without realizing the final cost we have to pay when these unsustainable “economic-miracles” vaporizes into a one big mirage?

Singaporeans are people with pride as we have been working hard, really hard, for the sake of our children’s future. This DNA is what makes Singapore uniquely great, and for us to be able to grow from a third world into a developed nation over a short period of time. To continue to do well, we just need good leaders as we have the rest – a proven workforce, critical infrastructure, assets and resources.

Singaporeans do have valid reasons to be concerned about the real capability and competency of our 4G leaders. How well do they truly understand how the world economy really works when they have not much real working experience since many of them are literally “manufactured” with shinning CVs, and do they even know how to balance or calibrate our socio-economic needs with our reserves, but instead, were quick in lavishing it on themselves and their related entities.

Just like our 4G leaders, it is time that we look deeper into NTUC and demand greater accountability from its past concessions & privileges, and ensure that sufficient safeguards are put in place to separate its politics from our economic and social spaces. It cannot be both a union and an employer at the same time.

NTUC is a political entity and it should have the professional ethic to be explicit about it. Then, it can continue to openly employ all the political leaders or activists who may otherwise be non-viable economically in the real world, as part of their CSR. Singapore truly needs a non-political union for the working class and it is time to review this needs strategically.

To depend on our 4G leaders to do what is right is like wishing upon a star. Like many others, I no longer have the patience to put up with their echo-chambering of ill-conceived government policies or their lack of workable solutions. If they still think they are right or that they are the best, let them dream on. But this is our country. As patriotic Singaporeans, we cannot afford to “fantasize” like them but have to think hard about what is the best way forward for our country, our children and ensure that there is indeed a tomorrow.

Just as citizens need representation in government and have the democratic-option to elect their representatives, the same is true for our working class – they need to have the democratic-option to elect their own representatives too. NTUC cannot serve two masters. The Hard Truth is that our working class do not have real union representation or protection and are being exploited.

When we realize that our working class is made up of our children, family members, relatives, loved ones, neighbours, friends, ex-schoolmates, religious-congregations, social groups, associates etc., can we remain silent in good conscience?

It is time for Singaporeans to wake up and start addressing this issue critically.


Joseph Nathan



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17 Responses to “Is our union & MOM protecting our working class?”

  • LIONS:

    sure,NTUC is “PROTECTING” workers,FTs,that is?

    “FTs will create more ‘JOBS’ for sgs! LMAO!

    lim boon heng,are you still weeping?
    or,your croc tear$ have long dried up?

    you were protege of ONG TENG CHEONG,THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT AND SG WORKERS’ UNION LEADER.arent you asahmed or,like your benefactor lee ah long,your $kin has become THICKER?

    DO PPL EXPECT NG CHEE MENG to protect workers,unionised sg workers?

    if you do,you are stoopid beyond redemption.

    VOTE WISELY,sg workers and jobless sgs ro face more gloom ahead when they dump even more FTs after GE becos SGS NO TALENT ENOUGH?

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  • rukidding:

    IMHO,…they are just bunch of “self serving” Por Lan Pars !!!

    Protecting the local working class interest ???…Really ????

    Just how much did the Indian/Malay Lady did ???

    I don’t seem to remember anything spectacular or impressive ???

    Oh,oh,…maybe the Milo stuff lor !

    Dafts sillyporeans will be daft forever…all the Boh Lan Pars,…”marginalised” by those Por Lan Pars !!!

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  • Asd:

    Muppet show

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    A Trinity of two Parts UNHOLY and one part The Workers going through HELL!!!

    NTUC… for the Workers For The People BUT Profits comes 1st…

    ABC… a retail outlet own by a BayiSingh name Nelson…RESPECT leh!!! is truly for the people…all his products are 30-70% cheaper than NTUC!!!

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  • NotMyProblem:

    @Joseph, NTUC has never served two masters! Ever since NTUC was taken over by PAP, it only serve one master, the PAP.

    NTUC is now a cradle for PAP’s members waiting to be a Minister. With the union fee, from all the working suckers, at their disposal, PAP can babysit all those Minister-to-be. NTUC is now a stat board of the govt.

    For the final time, forget about any govt agency to help the citizen, workers, seniors, babies, or anyone. PAP only help themselves. When there is money to be earned, PAP takes first.

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  • Taleban:

    NTUC to go Regionally or Globally, God forbid.
    If they will to go out of Singapore, they will surely loss money.
    So how to cover their loss. Jack up all prices. Singaporean will suffer.
    Please do not expand outside Singapore for the sake of Singaporean.

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  • Once upon an old PAP time:

    The natural aristocrats Ong Teng Cheong and Devan Nair were the last genuine champions of worker rights three decades ago. Singapore was
    the third world’s greatest success story for its balanced economic development on a foundation of social democracy. Since the (compelled en masse) departure of the excellent founding fathers in the 80s, we have been spiralling up into institutionalised crony-capitalism while being pulled downward by the current of social darwinism. So did Oxfam get it right about our burgeoning income inequality – is there something inherently superior in our greater mortals?

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  • N.Jungne:

    Thanks Joseph Nathan, quite a long article will read later. As an cooperative, it was doing ok, but as time went by it has now venture into something; not advantage to Labour. What to expect, must VTO.

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  • The Other Hard Truths:

    The greatest acrimony and humbug is that the NTUC chief is a government minister.

    This is akin to appoint the chief robber in the country to head the police force.

    How long more should true Singaporeans put up with this nonsense ?

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  • no choices left:

    only cure=VTO.
    no other solution.
    our gov wont change we’ve got to change the gov.
    for the betterment of everyone.

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  • Greedy & Evil To The Core:

    This is really a very impressive essay to summarize and highlight the current plight of society and failures of PAP policies in a very “short” article.
    Many of these concerns have been raised by netizens in the few worthy alternative media.

    Much of it are common sense, real concerns if one were to have genuine interest in the welfare of this country.
    It is a shocking surprise that PAP ministars, who are paid millions of tax dollars, are incapable of seeing the problems.

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  • Doubts n Suspicion:

    To authenticate the truthfulness of the article, is Joseph Nathan belongs to the notorious Nathan who bootlicked his whole life to join the PAP Self Gratified MM Club (PAPSGMMC)? If he is, why didn’t he said this years ago when this question was n still is asked by many when the labor issues were n still r decided by the so called tripatitle consisting of Not tUC headed mandatory by PAPplps including PAP minister, Government PAP n Employers Representative generally a PAP ardent supporter. Where is the labor voice? When workers salary increase is raised it was booted out on insufficient productivity when PAP is trumpeting loud of the economic phenomenal success n PAP with its huge harem of polanpa all dancing fast to their banks. This has been going on n on for the last many decade since PAPplps came with a high credit score of the tripartite n illegalized gathering of more than 2 automatically passed by PAPMPs when PAP minister put up their motion.
    All so called media editor strangled any errant reporters opining adversely. NTUC is so marvelously managed that it become sort of an extension of PAPSGMMC that it spent millions to build a full golf course where their big multimillionaire chiefs n its plps can entertain their comrades in arms while the NTUC membership looked on sheepishly n helplessly. So Joseph Nathan is the workers protected by the sanka, three legged, tripodic devious gang pap called tripatite?
    As LKY trumpetted against HIM or HIS policy HIS Enemies. With him n his policy, HIS Comrades (tongzi 同志) with direct entry to the credit point rewards card membership. This is his real legacy left for the loud farters in the dark or netizens rated them as 10% oathed PAPMP cum Cabinet darkened with light repelling curtains.
    Evidence for the 10% oathed papmaps is the empty Parliamentary sessions after years of PAP snoring pigs while their big lp talking corks.
    ST today came with Speaker Tan CJ telling half truth. Singapore is different-it plans for the present n future should be read as Singapore is different – PAP plans for present n future self gratification n self glorification of PAP n its credit reward card holding members 90% of their elected terms n only wakes to con the daft Singaporeans for their votes for another 5 years cycle with goodies to be recovered after they r conned to cast Votes 4 PAP ten times the worth of the goodies with the excess for the rewards pool n self gratifications.
    So wake up daft Singaporeans. Oncebitten twice shy but Singapore dafts have been slapped till they become bonkers. At least the ex bank chief who ordered the bank to pay a million each to the two local pioneer bankers for his libellious remark after he was rewarded with the multmillions chief position following the most degrading imbecile…

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  • Great Asia:

    I have been asking this question: In its entire dirty existence, has the NTUC ever invited the hawker centre cleaners, hawker stall assistance and other low-income Singaporeans to join as members?

    The answer is NO!

    Why? Because these low-income Singaporeans couldn’t afford to pay the annual fees! And there is very little incentive for the PAP fat cats heading the NTUC to help these people.

    But, if you are a high-income white collar worker, then the NTUC wants you to be its member. Because, just like an MLM company, they want your membership fees and they want you to consume their products and services.

    Singapore is being ruled by an extremely elitist family. That’s why Singaporeans have become elitist.

    Ha ha ha!

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  • Don't Daydream:

    MOM certainly isn’t like any of the trade unions you might find in places like France.

    But Singaporeans have to remember that 100% support from MOM for 0 jobs, still gets Singaporeans no work whatsoever. 100% X 0 = 0.

    Singaporean workers have been losing ground against Thailand and Malaysia and China for a long time already. Singaporeans should listen to what the top management of foreign investors have to say about how Singaporean workers stack up against regional peers. It is a sobering experience. It will also hit home that if we ask for much more, without corresponding increase in output volume and quality, many of us are likely to be staring at 0 jobs.

    We can halve ministerial salaries, and it wouldn’t change a thing. Highly paid or poorly paid, our ministers and civil servants have absolutely no control over cost of labour overseas, and has no control over their work ethic.

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  • Aunty Lucy: An Embarassment:

    To be fair, the whites, Japanese and a few others created jobs for Spoeans during the 70s, 80s.

    The present wave – Pinoys, Blanga and others are just cheap laborers or mid level execs. Well they do create jobs for maid agencies, MOM, ICA, clinics. What does our govt gain from these FTAs?

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  • oxygen:

    @ Aunty Lucy : An Embarassment


    Aunty Lucy: An Embarassment: To be fair, the whites, Japanese and a few others created jobs for Spoeans during the 70s, 80s.

    The present wave – Pinoys, Blanga and others are just cheap laborers or mid level execs. Well they do create jobs for maid agencies, MOM, ICA, clinics. What does our govt gain from these FTAs?

    It is collecting “more GST” NOT ENOUGH to pay for the continuing construction and maintenance of “MRT” -both end with “t”.

    FAILED PAPpynomics – invention of the most scholarly brilliant military ex-generals’ not-so-scholastic-clever economics I am afraid.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Don’t Daydream

    INTUITIVELY LOGICAL OF YOUR ARGUMENT but you can’t explain these -

    - loss of jobs is in all sectors, so all Sinkies/PRs are incompetent and inadequate in all ways??

    - USA,Germany, Japan, Australia also been losing competitive grounds to emergent economies like Thailand, Malaysia, China (and China is also concurrently losing grounds to emergent economies) over the decade, how come they don’t end up with across the board retrenchments too?

    - in business, you either dominate or you disrupt your competitor i.e. Nokia disrupt Motorola, Apple disrupt Nokia, and Huawei disrupt Apple. It is dynamism in social-political construct of adapting to change and innovation. Our dictatorship inhibits us on that pathway. Our political-economic inactivism precludes the challenge of all things status-quo, citizenry is never part of the process and debate for change and left to rot in lives of chaos bewilderment of oppression (if you are my friend, you get everything, if you oppose, we have arbitrary crooked law waiting for you) – how to progress like that, huh??

    - no imprisoned society living like obedient robots progresses because it is IMMOVABLE IMPRISONMENT, can you refute this one???

    Don't Daydream: MOM certainly isn’t like any of the trade unions you might find in places like France.

    But Singaporeans have to remember that 100% support from MOM for 0 jobs, still gets Singaporeans no work whatsoever. 100% X 0 = 0.

    Singaporean workers have been losing ground against Thailand and Malaysia and China for a long time already. Singaporeans should listen to what the top management of foreign investors have to say about how Singaporean workers stack up against regional peers. It is a sobering experience. It will also hit home that if we ask for much more, without corresponding increase in output volume and quality, many of us are likely to be staring at 0 jobs.

    We can halve ministerial salaries, and it wouldn’t change a thing. Highly paid or poorly paid, our ministers and civil servants have absolutely no control over cost of labour overseas, and has no control over their work ethic.

    POLITICALLY, CULTURALLY, ECONOMICALLY, SINKIELAND IS FILLED WITH CATERPILLARS right from the political apex to the street sweeper.

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