Time to reinstate workers' rights

Singapore Democrats

Singapore's workers have been exploited for far too long. Since the detention of opposition and trade union leaders like Lim Chin Siong and the eradication of free trade unions together with the restructuring of the employment laws in the 1960s, the PAP has, together with Western neoliberals, systematically dismantled the legitimate rights of the Singaporean worker.

While we have the highest number of millionaires per capita making us the richest country in the world, nearly 5 percent of our workers are paid $500 a month. Their wages have not risen in the last 10 years. The result is an enormous income inequality, the highest in the industrialised world.

And while Singaporeans work the most number of hours, according to a survey by the International Labour Organisation, real wages continue to decline. This has made us one of the most stressful countries in Asia to work; our workers are among the unhappiest.

Yet, we are governed by ministers who pay themselves the highest salaries in the world regardless of their performance. They are guided by an ideological adherence to the neoliberal idea of market fundamentalism which allows the rich unbridled power to amass vast fortunes that distort the market. As a result, Singapore's economic progress is held hostage by an elite which corners wealth at the expense of the rest of society.

Such an arrangement is unsustainable and will eventually result in economic meltdown. The two-day strike carried out by SMRT bus drivers from China is a manifestation of the underlying problem. But while the Chinese Government has spoken up for the SMRT workers from China, Singaporean workers remain at the mercy of the PAP. Someone has to stand up for them.

The SDP will work towards bringing our labour laws in accordance with international standards, allowing Singaporean workers to organise themselves free from the NTUC's control. Free trade cannot exist when one side does not have the freedom to organise and bargain.

It is severely myopic to continue down the path of worker exploitation. Empowering our workers will enable them to feel more secure and facilitate a happier working environment. Studies show unequivocally that such a labour framework rapidly increases labour productivity, currently languishing at persistently worrying levels.

Increasing wage levels by introducing a minimum wage also contributes significantly to a productive labour force, not to mention increasing workers' spending power. This will be good for the overall economy.

The liberalisation and deregulation rules laid down by the Washington Consensus, to which the PAP so fervently subscribes, cannot be allowed to continue in Singapore. Singaporean workers, speaking with a unified voice, must seek to put an end to their own exploitation.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012 SDP Print