Have you ever mistaken NTUC for PAP? Well, there are legit reasons why they behave like husband and wife.
They “got to know” each other before 1961 but officially “celebrated their love” on 6 September 1961 when the non-communist unionists formed the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
This relationship would not have blossomed if not for the split in the People’s Action Party (PAP) in July 1961.
Here are 3 reasons why NTUC and PAP share such a strong and intimate relationship.
They enjoy close interactions
Couples in a happy marriage usually have close interactions with each other by spending quality time together and building a common space.
The same can be said for NTUC and PAP representatives.
Since 1959, trade unionists are elected to Parliament under the banner of PAP in every general election in Singapore. By serving in NTUC and being elected as Member of Parliament (MP), it helps unionists to advocate for workers’ concern in Parliament.
When trade unionists are elected to Parliament, this gives them opportunities to interact with their colleagues in Government ministries and help them understand trade union work better.
Other PAP members in Parliament, of non-trade-union origin, have served as officials and advisors in NTUC and its affiliated trade unions and co-operatives.
For example, Mr Seah Kian Peng is serving as a MP for Marine Parade GRC but he also heads the NTUC Fairprice as CEO in his day job.
These interactions help to foster deeper understanding between the two parties.
They are willing to compromise for common goals
Happy couples acknowledge the importance of taking a step back, each, to achieve a broader and more positive outlook.
After the NTUC was formed, Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 and the British withdrew their military base by 1971. There were job uncertainties and Singapore was forced to survive.
The country had to make itself attractive for foreign investors to come in. This meant that its workforce had to be available and flexible. Bad practices had to go.
Late Mr Lee Kuan Yew told unionists in 1968 that the labour laws had to be amended to allow management to manage workers.
“I am asking you to lick the labour movement into shape, cutting out restrictive practices which are no longer relevant and stopping abuse of fringe benefits which leads to lower productivity…Cut all these evils off, jack up productivity. Cut out abuse of privileges and create a new image of a thinking, hard-headed labour movement.”
The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act was then introduced to prohibit the trade unions from making demands in areas such as workforce deployment, promotions and dismissal.
The unions’ scope as a bargaining entity was reduced but in return, the PAP Government implemented the Employment Act.
It appeared to favour employers but was actually fair to employees.
The unions also knew that by swallowing the “bitter pill” of accepting the legislations that could cause short-term pain, it would save jobs in the long run.
They don’t take each other for granted
Couples who make it far together, remember that they cannot rest on their laurels and take each other for granted.
When the unions “gave up” some of their bargaining rights to pave way for a viable economy in Singapore, the PAP Government did not conveniently forget this sacrifice.
They remember the cooperation and support given by the trade unions and the workers.
To fulfill its promise of providing a better life for workers, the Government revised the CPF Act to make CPF contributions payable on gross instead of basic salary.
Here’s an interesting fact – the Act was also amended in 1968 to allow CPF contributions to be used to purchase HDB flats!
Now imagine if the CPF Amendment Act was not passed, how could it be possible for Singaporean workers to own a space which they call home?
Renewing of vows
NTUC and PAP will continue to be in tandem only if both parties are committed to work on this symbiotic relationship. Just like some old married couples, they renew their vows to strengthen their commitment to each other.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew believes that the NTUC-PAP relationship has to be strengthened to create a secure future for Singapore.
To him, it was a “perfect marriage” between NTUC and PAP.
“There was never any distinction or division between the political (PAP) and the trade union (NTUC) objectives. Both were out to abolish the old unjust colonial order and to create a society which offered everybody equal opportunities for education, health, housing, jobs and a better life.”