NTUC & Tripartism

At the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), we believe that the best welfare for working people is a job and their best protection is full employment. To achieve these, NTUC leverages tripartism – the collaboration and co-operation among workers (represented by unions), employers and government – to forge common goals and tackle challenges so as to benefit workers, businesses and Singaporeans as a whole. Tripartism has been – and continues to be – one of the cornerstones of Singapore’s economic, social and political development and success thus far.

Singapore’s brand of collaborative tripartism was borne out of the tumultuous and confrontational times of the 1950s and 1960s when Singapore struggled for independence. It was during this period that there was increasing animosity between employers and workers due to various factors. Following Singapore’s independence in 1965, NTUC did a fundamental rethink of its future role as representatives of our workers and opted for cooperation, instead of confrontation, with both government and management so as to help workers improve their quality of life. This marked the ‘birth’ of tripartism in Singapore.

Since then, tripartism has been Singapore’s key competitive advantage and a boon for businesses and workers. It has helped boost Singapore’s economic competitiveness by creating a stable and positive environment for investors to bring in investments and good jobs. Tripartism has also contributed to Singapore’s overall progress through policies and initiatives that have benefited the economy and workforce – fair and progressive employment practices, a flexible wage system, re-employment of older workers, training and upgrading to name a few. It has also promoted harmonious labour-management relations, allowing employers and unions to work hand in hand to take better care of the interests of our workers.

Trust, mutual respect and equal partnership are the key ingredients to Singapore’s brand of tripartism, which has served Singapore well. While discussions and negotiations among the tripartite partners – NTUC, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) – are often carried out behind closed doors, which we do so unapologetically, the resulting recommendations and solutions to challenges usually result in far-reaching outcomes for businesses, workers and Singaporeans. For example, during the economic recessions of 1985, 1997 and 2008/9; 2003 SARS crisis; and 2011 September 11 attacks, the tripartite partners were responsive and focused in drafting guidelines and recommendations for businesses and workers to help them cope with and recover from those challenging times. These guidelines and recommendations proved to be effective in buffering the impact of these crises on our businesses and workers.

Recognising that tripartism is key to Singapore’s continuing survival and competitiveness, NTUC called for a stronger and more pervasive tripartism in October 2013. We believe that for tripartism to be strong, it has to be embraced not just among the top leadership at the national level but also by the future generations of tripartite leadership at the sectoral level. By calling for tripartism at the sectoral level, we want the whole of Government and all industry bodies and business sectors to work even closer with NTUC and our unions and associations so as to find solutions for industry-wide issues confronting both businesses and workers such as manpower and productivity challenges.