A little peek into the Co-Operatives in Singapore

Co-operative societies, more commonly termed co-ops, are membership-based enterprises that operate on the principles of self-help and mutual assistance.

More often than not, these enterprises are owned and run by members, for members. They typically have social missions to benefit the greater society in which they operate in.

Currently, there are 84 co-operatives in Singapore.

There are two main types of co-operatives, namely the consumer and services co-operatives, as well as the credit co-operatives.

Consumer and services co-operatives typically provide goods and/services to their members to meet their daily needs, while credit co-operatives provide financial services to their members who are within a pre-existing common bond of association of community of interest.

Some of these co-ops have become household names that you’ve probably heard of, for example, NTUC FairPrice, NTUC FoodFare, and NTUC Income.

Although these co-ops are business-driven, they are nevertheless anchored in their social mission to help Singaporeans by moderating the cost of living.

The Beginning of Co-Operatives

Unbeknownst to many, the co-operatives established by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) were introduced at a time when it was necessary to help workers with the cost of living.

The launch of NTUC Income in September 1970 was a kick-starter for the Labour Movement to provide low-wage workers with affordable insurance coverage.

September 1970: NTUC Income set up to provide low-wage workers with affordable insurance coverage

Following the establishment of the life-insurance co-operative, NTUC later also launched other co-operatives to combat profiteering and provide affordable goods and services for workers, which include the NTUC-Comfort!

NTUC-Comfort: The Taxi Co-Operative

Back then, in the 1970s, the NTUC formed its own taxi co-operative – NTUC-Comfort – in a bid to reduce the number of illegal taxis and to increase the number of taxis on the streets.

NTUC Comfort

During that period, illegal taxis (aka pirate taxis) were flourishing, and anyone could register their private cars as taxis and used them to ferry passengers at arbitrary rates.

Some of these illegal taxis, known as “Ali Baba”, were also controlled by rogue operators that owned fleets of poorly maintained vehicles in their territories. As a result, taxi licenses were often traded by them at exorbitant values.

Hence, to make it affordable for the passengers, and for the taxi drivers to rent and drive taxis, NTUC established the NTUC-Comfort.

A supermarket that was born out of a crisis

After NTUC-Comfort came NTUC Welcome, a supermarket that was born out of a crisis.

Formerly known as NTUC Welcome, the co-operative supermarket was established on 22 July 1973 with its first outlet at Block 192 in Toa Payoh Lorong 4.

NTUC Welcome Supermarket

Back then in 1973, Singapore was reeling from the effects of the global oil crisis. There were looming fears of global food shortage and merchants inflated the prices of essential items.

To fight inflation and stabilise food prices, NTUC Welcome was started to sell essential commodities like rice, sugar, and cooking oil at reasonable prices to the public and become the “people’s supermarket” – an objective that remains till today.

In case you didn’t know, NTUC FairPrice has never intended to be the cheapest supermarket around. Instead, it helps with the cost of living by selling affordable housebrand products.

It also acts as an industry benchmark for prices to curb profiteering and at the same time, allow Singaporeans to compare prices and snag the best deals around!