Growing up in Singapore, I have heard about NTUC since I was young but never have I scrutinised the trade union here so closely. I used to think that NTUC was the company that gave Singaporeans NTUC Fairprice, the supermarket and NTUC Income for subsidised insurance. To be quite honest, I was largely ignorant about what the NTUC did, but I knew that the NTUC was fundamentally part of the government. Taking a glimpse into history and the events that shaped NTUC, I have a newfound respect and pride for my nation’s trade union for the work that they have accomplished.
Based on my findings, that I will further substantiate below, I will explain why I do not think that the NTUC and ACFTU are trade unions. Though there are many similarities between these two organisations, NTUC has seen more success in the policies and implementation of schemes than the ACFTU.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that aptly describes the relationship between these two unions and their government “Man is the head of the family, woman the neck that turns the head”. The ACFTU and NTUC is the head that the people see, but in effect, it is the government that is controlling the unions. However, that said we also have to look at it at from a bigger perspective and analyse if this close working relationship is detrimental to the welfare of the country’s workers.
I started my investigations by firstly understanding what makes a trade union and what constitutes “trade unionism”. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) recognises trade unions that are “independent of outside influence, and have a democratic structure” (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, 2004). NTUC is recognised and registered as an affiliated organisation of the ICFTU, it is also the...