Are strikes or demonstrations really illegal in Singapore?

What’s the point of having a union if I can’t fight for my rights as a worker through industrial action? 

With the grievances we face at work, you wonder – isn’t there a way for me to retaliate against the company and management? There technically is… but Singapore does it in a different way.

In other countries, here are some examples of what such demonstrations look like: 

Photos: Al Jazeera

Such demonstrations are done during May Day or better known as Labour Day – the international day of workers. Demonstrators usually take to the streets to celebrate workers and push for improved labour rights. Sometimes, these demonstrations can get a little violent… 

In Turkey this year, riot police had to be deployed to arrest dozens of protestors trying to reach Istanbul’s main Taksim Square for May Day demonstrations against economic hardship caused by inflation. 

In Singapore, Labour Day is typically celebrated in the form of a peaceful rally

But, shouldn’t Singapore allow demonstrations or strikes when things get really bad? 

Contrary to popular belief, strikes are actually legal in Singapore. NTUC Deputy Secretary-General Chee Hong Tat explained in a 40-minute podcast with Economics Lah that strikes or industrial action should be seen as the “nuclear option” when dealing with work-related grievances and issues. 

He also mentioned that the option to organise a strike is a power that unions want to retain when the situation reaches a point of no return. 

“This should not be used too freely and only as a last resort. If we can avoid this, we will go down the road of negotiations.” 

He also added, “Dont win the battle, lose the war.” 

Why should we retain such powers? Shouldn’t we use it to its fullest extent? 

The reason why we don’t hear of major disputes between employers and workers is because NTUC resolves disputes on behalf of workers behind closed doors. Such tactics ensure that unions maintain a good and trusted relationship between companies to champion workers’ rights in a diplomatic manner.

What happens if we don’t have a good relationship with employers? 

Simply put – piss them off and have them pull out of Singapore (can you imagine not having your favourite restaurants or retail stores here?) This in turn affects our position and image as a global hub – which is the bread and butter of Singapore’s growth and thriving economy. 

Our unions exist for a bigger purpose – not just to protect workers, but to protect the entire equitable income distribution and cohesion of society. 

Listen to the full podcast here.

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