SINGAPORE – Singapore’s trade unions must remain relevant in a changing landscape, be responsive to new challenges and be representative of the changing workforce, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong said on Saturday July 23.
Noting the sometimes difficult state of labor relations elsewhere, Wong said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will have to evolve or even reinvent itself in tandem with the times, even as its fundamental role of being the voice and champion of workers remains unchanged. .
“If the NTUC stays strong, then we can be confident that we are heading in the right direction, and Singapore will continue to be successful,” he said.
The minister was speaking at the Suntec Singapore Convention Center at a Young NTUC event called LIT DISCOvery 2022, which aims to help young people learn to harness technology where they work, live and play.
During the event, the NTUC launched a task force to better understand the professional aspirations of young people and support them in their careers.
There will be a one-year engagement, after which the task force, chaired by NTUC Deputy General Secretary Desmond Choo and led by Young NTUC Executive Secretary Wendy Tan, will share ideas and recommendations on how better support young people.
Mr Wong, who is also finance minister, said the conversations and insights from the engagement will feed into the wider Forward Singapore exercise, helping to ensure the concerns and aspirations of a new generation of workers are heard. and reflected in Singapore’s policies and programs.
Forward Singapore is a national exercise launched by Mr. Wong last month. It aims to refresh and strengthen the country’s social pact for the next stage of development, with the Republic at a post-Covid-19 crossroads.
In his speech, Mr. Wong also said that the state of labor relations gives a clue to the overall health of any society and acts as a litmus test of the strength of the society and its social compact.
“Unfortunately, in most developed countries, labor relations have deteriorated and union membership has declined significantly,” Wong noted.
“Part of it is because of the very aggressive and confrontational tactics of many unions in Western countries in the 1960s and 1970s. They took a strident and aggressive approach and as a result they lost the support of the vast majority of their societies.
This, in turn, led to the defeat of social democratic parties in these countries and the rise of pro-market conservative parties in the 1980s.
Mr Wong cited former US President Ronald Reagan and former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as examples of “transformative figures” backed by their populations to counter the excesses of those on the political left, including the unions.
But the decline of trade unions in these countries has not been without cost.
Wong noted that without strong unions and collective bargaining, wages for rank-and-file workers across Europe and the United States have fallen, contributing to stagnant wages for many and a greater gap between the haves and the have-nots.