Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Strike

As last November's SMRT bus driver strike was the first strike in over 20 years, the aftermath of the strike is still vibrating here in Singapore. Of course, the main question for the government is how to prevent more strikes from happening.

I personally don’t understand why that’s even a question. To me, the answer is amazingly simple. Give our trade unions some teeth!

The main reason why the bus drivers held a strike last November was because they were treated unfairly. It’s that simple. They are foreign workers here in Singapore doing the same work as other foreign workers but are paid less than foreign workers from Malaysia even though they had paid a recruitment fee of around S$7,000. On top of that, they were housed in dormitories that were dirty and unhygienic.

None of these problems would have occurred in the first place if the bus drivers were unionised and none of the problems would have occurred if the companies thought that they would be bought to task by the unions of Singapore

Now I know it’s somewhat fashionable to blame SMRT for the problems, but they are not alone in their poor treatment of foreign workers. Remember how many incidents involving foreign workers happened after the strike? One company even tried to withhold the salaries of their foreign workers for 1-2 months, waiting for them to be deported. The moment their actions got into the papers, suddenly the workers got paid the next day. If these incidents prove anything, it's that the SMRT weren’t doing anything any other company in Singapore were not also doing.

None of them would have dared to pull something like this in a country with a strong union. I am not the only one in Singapore who thinks NTUC is a joke. I mean remember when NTUC labour chief Lim Swee Say tried to explain why there was a difference in pay between nationalities in SMRT? Singapore must be the only country in the world where the union chief actually defend a company against workers!

As long as stuff like that happened, foreign workers will take things into their own hands. Singaporeans can just quit but foreign workers do not have this option. If Singapore want to prevent strikes in the future, the answer is simple. Have a union that actually works! 

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