Human rights and your job

Singapore Democrats

Will your job be there next year, next month, or even the next day? Judging by the reports of job cuts occurring across all sectors, this question must loom large in the minds of workers here.

The ailing manufacturing industry which accounts for close to 26 per cent of Singapore’s GDP doesn’t seem to be able to shake off its languor. The electronics sector alone is expected to shed some 55,000 jobs in the coming weeks.

The oil sector is also undergoing a major paring down. Oil trading almost halved in September due to the financial crisis and slowing regional demand. The credit crisis has also hit the over-the-counter oil derivatives market that is the cornerstone of Asia’s oil and commodities trading.

Shipping is also not spared. Neptune Orient Lines is reducing capacity to rapidly slowing demand. NOL is cutting its available space on Asia-Pacific by close to 25 percent and transpacific capacity by 20 percent.

Of course, with the current financial crisis gripping global markets, hardest hit is the banking and finance sector. DBS Bank announced the shocker that it was cutting 900 jobs in its Singapore and Hong Kong operations.

It is clear that Singapore’s economy is nose-diving and the economic rout has just begun. In its wake will be tens of thousands of workers left without a job in this country.

So what can workers do to better fend for themselves and make sure that they are protected in this time of uncertainty? The truth is very little. With a Government whose main motivation is to maximise profit and who has no compunction in sacrificing the well-being of worker-citizens, the picture is gloomy.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) chief Mr Lim Swee Say recently expressed disappointment at the retrenchment of DBS staff and that the Staff Union had not been consulted. But other than the obligatory expression, no one expects anything else to happen.

So what if DBS Staff Union had been consulted? The PAP Government did not obliterate trade unionism in the 1960s for nothing. Appointing a cabinet minister to head the NTUC sums up the sorry state in which workers find themselves.

Sure, the Ministry of Manpower did step in to issue guidelines about “responsible retrenchment”. Workers should not just be given the pink slip. They should first be told that they would be retrenched – and then given the pink slip.

After all the disappointment have been expressed and the hand-wringing ritual conducted, it is the workers who will be told to tighten their belts and make sacrifices for the nation yet again. They will have to retrain themselves – code for doing anything that will make one a few dollars regardless of one’s qualifications and skills.

No workers’ rights means no ability to ensure that retrenchment is done only as a last resort, no ability to collectively bargain for retrenchment entitlement, and no ability to affect worker-protection schemes.

But to be able to organise the working sector we need to get the people together, we need for people to speak up, and we need to form independent labour unions. To do these we need the freedoms of speech, association and assembly. In short we need political rights.

Like fire exits, civil and political rights may not be much missed during normal times. But like fire exits, they are life-saving in times of emergency.

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