NTUC's Cham also urges SMRT management to recognise positive role the union can play
Singapore: Most of SMRT's foreign drivers are not union members, while the majority of SBS Transit's roughly 580 China-born drivers are, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General Cham Hui Fong has revealed.
She said this in a press statement yesterday evening, as she urged SMRT's management to "recognise the positive role the union can play", noting that NTUC has 140,000 foreign worker members. Said Ms Cham: "On their part, foreign drivers should see the benefit of joining the union so that the union can be of assistance to them."
Her comments come as observers questioned whether the illegal strikes staged by 171 SMRT bus drivers on Monday and Tuesday could have been averted had the China workers been able to negotiate with their employers through the union over their grievances - inequitable pay, as well as poor work and living conditions.
The high-profile illegal strikes - the Republic's last sit-in, albeit a legal one, happened 26 years ago - involving employees in an "essential service" also drew concerns over Singapore's reliance on imported labour in some sectors.
Members of Parliament (MPs) and economists TODAY spoke to highlighted the need for unions to step up their engagement efforts towards foreign workers here, especially those working in critical sectors like healthcare and utilities. Given that Singapore would probably "require even more foreign workers in many areas" in future, given our ageing population, MP Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said: "If unions reach out to them, at least when there are problems, things can be discussed and worked out better."
MP Inderjit Singh (Ang Mo Kio GRC) added: "We cannot assume that foreign workers will know or follow our rules and regulations. They probably will be more likely to do what they are used to in their own country, so there must be serious education, particularly in labour relations here."
While he stressed his support for the Government's firm actions in sending out a signal, Mr Singh wondered if it was time to consider setting local-foreign worker ratios in major public services sectors like utilities, but he did not go into specifics.
Concurring, Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy added: "Given the importance and potential impact of essential services on the economy, there may be a need to revisit the extent of dependence on foreign workers for effective functioning of these sectors." Salary and work conditions, he noted, must be reviewed such that more Singaporeans will take up jobs in these sectors.
Agreeing, CIMB regional economist Song Seng Wun said businesses have been able to "make use of foreign workers to keep wages at the lower levels down", he said.
The strikes showed that the bottomline is that employers must pay "fair wages" to all workers because any service disruptions would hurt the Republic's reputation as an efficient economy, he added.
Meanwhile, National Solidarity Party secretary-general Hazel Poa said in a press statement that the SMRT drivers involved had broken the law, but felt Singapore's tripartite model "does not provide confidence to aggrieved workers that their rights and interest would be protected".
"We need a union that is independent, and also seen to be independent, from the Government," she said.--Courtesy of Today