Comparing workers’ rights in Singapore and Sweden

Ms Chee Siok Chin

The horrified expressions were unmistakable when two labour leaders from Sweden were told that Singapores NTUC was led by Minister Lim Boon Heng and six other PAP MPs.

The Vice President of the Swedish Food Union, Mr. Hans Olof, and the unions International Secretary, Mr. Pauli Kristiansson, were recently in Singapore and met with SDP officials.

The two Swedish gentlemen emphasized that the protection of workers rights in Sweden are of great importance. It is imperative that unions listen to, and act on, the views of workers under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, a piece of legislation respected by union leaders. In addition, the leaders of unions are elected by its members and become trusted representatives of the workers. One senses that the unions in Sweden have a great role to play in cultivating patriotism in the citizenry, or least among its working population.

Messrs Olof and Kristiansson took pains to point out that trade unions in Sweden are independent of the government. The situation at home could not be anymore more different where almost every union has been co-opted into the NTUC-family. Exceptions like Alpa-S which tried to assert its independence was swiftly razed to the ground.

When asked about how the Swedish Government protects those who are retrenched, we were told that laid off are taken care of for the first year by the government before another review is made to their status. The government pays 80% of the last-drawn salary of the retrenched worker. These individuals have to undergo active job-search and job-match programs during this period. When asked if this system was abused by those who were out of work, we were told that there were very few of such cases.

This is what the SDP has been advocating for that the welfare of those who find themselves suddenly stripped of their livelihood during recessions must be safeguarded by the government. The trauma of losing ones means of survival is something that the authorities here do not pay enough attention to. Compassion and help for laid-off workers does not seem to rank highly in the PAPs priority.

The matter is made even more infuriating when one considers that the Singapore Government has given itself the authority to transfer our reserves to GLCs and statutory boards. Contrast this with its refusal to use even a tiny fraction of the reserves to help those who have been retrenched.

It matters not that the Finance Ministry explains in typically convoluted manner how this transfer of reserves does not draw upon past reserves. The fact is that there are Singaporeans who need assistance at a time of dire need. And it is the duty of this government to take care of them.

Only when unions are free of government interference and control, can Singaporean workers be imbued with pride and a sense of loyalty to the state. As it stands, many of them are marginalized and unhappy because their rights continue to be violated by this regime.

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