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Part I, another example of the undermining of employees’ rights is the make-up of the National wages Council (NWC), which, like the NTUC, is a tripartite organization consisting, again, of employee, employer and government representatives. The exact proportion of these representatives in the council is unavailable on the Internet.
Recently, the NWC introduced guidelines for salary increments in low-wage jobs. They recommended a paltry $50 built-in wage increase for those earning up to $1000, a very minimal increment with regard to the current standard of living.
The five percent increase in the wages of one of the lowest income groups contrasts sharply against the 13.81 percent increase in GDP per capita from the previous year.
The NTUC echoed support for the disgraceful wage increment, raising doubt and suspicion as to whom the organisation is really representing. There is also the silence on the matter of minimum wage, a far cry from neighbouring Malaysia’s gazetted minimum wage sum of RM900 to help its poorer citizens out of poverty and to cope with the rising cost of living.
Additionally, the lack of retrenchment benefits to provide support help for workers who find themselves retrenched is also disturbing. It is not surprising that the NTUC has not taken an active approach towards this issue, despite its claim of being a trade union.
The SDP has recently proposed that the Government pay retrenched workers not covered by their employers 75 percent of their last drawn salary for the first six months. This amount will be reduced to 50 percent during the following six months, and further reduced to 25 percent in the third six months. The payments will stop once the individual is re-employed. They will also cease 18 months after one’s retrenchment if the individual is still not employed by then. This will prevent a culture of welfare dependence from taking root. A cap will also be placed on the amount that any retrenched worker is paid.
Furthermore, under the SDP’s proposal each worker will be allowed to reject only up to three job offers in the one-and-a-half years of the entitlement program following which, as stated, the retrenchment benefit ceases. The NTUC should consider adopting this proposal for the benefit of the 550,000 members it represents as of 2010.
Looking at the lack of real representation of workers’ voices under the NTUC, I would like to propose a five-point proposal that may reform the NTUC and usher in a more progressive and democratic system of trade unions.
Disallow employer and Government representation in the NTUC, so that the workers will have a heightened platform to drive forth their proposals, based on the issues they themselves face.
Encourage a democratic culture of allowing unionists to align themselves with political parties of their choice, whose policies and ideas they feel best represent their interests, without prejudice.
Allow liberal trade unions that may be under-represented in the NTUC owing to their low numbers to be registered independently and to report their grievances/concerns directly to the related Government bodies.
Amend Part 3 of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Cap 67) to allow discontented workers under the NTUC or any other union to organise and hold rallies, strikes and lockdowns of a civil and non-violent nature, before reconciliation or settling disputes in arbitration courts which tend to pacify and dilute the severity of the cases and prevent the general population and, to a certain extent, even the Government from coming to unbiased conclusions.
Reorganise the NWC to comprise equal numbers of employee and employer representatives, while, again, excluding Government representatives, with proposals from both sides to be put up for serious debates in Parliament, eventually having the successful proposals passed into law.
The economy of any country is built on the backbone of its workforce. It is therefore essential to look after the welfare of workers lest the backbone break, crippling the nation’s social and economic progress.
The crushing of trade unions and workers’ woes Part 1
Jagwinder Singh is a member of The Young Democrats.