In 1967, the British announced that it would withdraw its troops by 1971. The British military spending in Singapore back then made up 11.1 per cent of Singapore’s Gross National Product.
To make up for this loss, Singapore had to rapidly industrialise to attract new foreign investments and overcome the issue of high unemployment. In line with this effort, the Government passed the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act and the Employment Act on 6 August 1968.
The Industrial Relations (Aendment) Act prohibited the unions from being able to make demands in areas such as workforce deployment, promotions and dismissals. The Employment Act, on the other hand, limited employee benefits such as bonuses and retrenchment benefits.
Given the changes and challenges in the labour market, NTUC, the trades union congress had to change and reinvent itself to be relevant. Hence, they organised the Modernisation Seminar in 1969.
During the Modernisation Seminar, fourteen recommendations were put forth as a part of the strategic plans for the future. Among the most significant were the labour movement’s assumptions of responsibility for Singapore’s economic survival and the establishments of co-operatives (NTUC Income, NTUC Fairprice to name a few).
With these recommendations, it gave the unions a new role to play. They couldn’t just be a bargaining institution anymore. They had a significant role to play in nation-building and be the movers of workers.
The changed in roles for the unions forced the union leaders to abandon their combative mindsets to take on a more collaborative approach with their management. This transition was the mark of the start of tripartism – unions worked with the Government and employers to take care of the workers.
With the Modernisation Seminar of 1969, Singapore’s unions become a different breed compared to other unions outside of Singapore. Staying relevant with the times, become co-owners of building Singapore and working with the Government and employers to get a win-win-win situation for all partners. This co-ownership makes up the strong tripartism the unions in Singapore have with the Government and employers.
It has been 50 years since the last Modernisation Seminar in 1969. The emergence of AI and technology are disrupting jobs.
Many jobs are being replaced or will be replaced and career progressions disrupted by these technologies. What can NTUC do to remain relevant to workers amidst these technological changes that are disrupting all employment and career progressions of Singaporeans?