Strikes, strikes everywhere: What’s going on?

Worker go on strike in the UK

In early June 2022, UK’s aviation industry went on strike and caused a widespread flight chaos as it was unable to employ sufficient staff as their country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Their aviation union was unhappy with the fact that they aren’t receiving sufficient support from the government, and workers were left to fend for themselves.

Similarly, France’s unions in the Roissy and Orly regions called for strike in early June 2022 as well, for salary increases for aviation industry workers.

Cleaners at Netherland’s Schiphol airport in its capital Amsterdam went on strike on 20 June 2022, voicing their unhappiness over the disparity in the offering of bonuses to airport workers but not those who augment the airport’s operations.

On the same day, talks fell out between union and train companies and the UK is set for a nation-wide railway strike, slated to be the biggest strike in decades. Up to 40,000 cleaners, signallers, maintenance workers and station staff will strike for 3 days, causing a shutdown of the rail network across the country. They were unhappy with their employer’s pay rates which were not commensurate with inflation rates.

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Trouble does not end for the UK: Teachers and doctors are threatening to walk out alongside rail workers if the UK government fails to meet their demand for a pay rise – strikes do spread, and can grow uncontrollably, bringing the entire country into paralysis.

In Canada, the same thing is happening – 750 Canadian National Railway Co. employees are on strike since 18 June 2022.

Are strikes really the way to go?

Singapore’s industrial relations in the 50s and 60s were in fact a stark contrast than what is it today.  Unemployment was widespread, working conditions were poor, and society was at unrest. When the Government embarked on industrialization, trade unions affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) supported the government’s call to move away from traditional adversarial unionism and antagonistic labour-management relations for a common goal: industrial peace with justice.

This became Singapore’s unique tripartism. The tripartite partners comprise of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), NTUC, and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). The labour movement acts responsibly, employers adopt a consultative stance and the government listens to the needs and wants of unions and employers. Together, a functional tripartite model is formed to further the interests of Singapore.

Peaceful labour-management relations had undeniably boosted Singapore’s economic competitiveness due to the social stability instilled – which is what investors primarily look out for when evaluating the viability and outlook of investing in a country. Some key issues tripartite partners follow closely are training and upgrading of workers, fair and progressive employment practices, job re-creation and a flexible wage system.

“Aiyah, don’t lie, strikes are illegal in Singapore which roots out any possible strikes.”

Wrong – Strikes are legal in Singapore! But unions in Singapore have achieved a common understanding that strikes have become a ‘nuclear option’ and should only be used if the situation reaches a point of no return. NTUC steps in before the point of no return, to resolve issues for workers behind closed doors and preserve the relationship between unions and workers. We’ve written a piece on this and you can read it here.

Why should we maintain good relationship with employers? If employers, especially international corporations – feel that it is increasingly difficult to sustain operations in Singapore due to soured and continued tensions between their management and workers, they will simply pull out, and both parties (employer and employee) lose out entirely.

Did you know that tripartite social partnerships are not unique to Singapore? Similar arrangements are also being pursued by Germany and Austria. Countries should find a way that works best for them and not hop onto what is popular – because what is popular is not necessarily always right or appropriate for a given situation or context. Peace out!

About Author

A young Singaporean concerned about issues workers face. As humans, we spend a third of our lives sleeping and recharging, and another third for our personal life, and the last third at work (based on a 24-hr distribution). That's why we should pay attention to issues surrounding work.