It’s a fact we can’t ignore — Singapore’s security workforce is rapidly aging. While the Union of Security Executives (USE) has been working hard to increase the wages and working conditions for security officers in Singapore, there remains a great concern for their health seeing as a third of security officers will be reaching retirement age in 10 years’ time, with a majority of the rest of the workforce following shortly after.
To help make the prospect of being a security officer more attractive, USE has started the Secure Your Health programme. The cleverly named programme empowers security officers to live healthier and fitter lives, and along with higher pay and less OT, will allow them to enjoy meaningful work and life.
This programme will be created with the cooperation of Singapore’s Health Promotion Board (HPB), which will provide two dedicated health coaches for 6 months for this initiative. This means that as security officers visit the USE office in Waterloo Street to obtain their security license, they will be able to go for basic health screening and advice on managing their health on the same floor.
“Efforts like what we have today help our workers prepare themselves physically, mentally and emotionally for a longer career lifespan that goes beyond 60,” said Secretary General of NTUC Chan Chun Sing. “We will continue to work with HPB to make sure that such programmes will continue to roll out to many other industries and sectors. Our job in NTUC is to ensure that we take care of our workers, but we can only do that with the support of partners like the HPB and the employers.”
This isn’t the only instance of free health programmes provided for blue-collared jobs. The National Taxi Association similarly provides taxi drivers with health checkups while they send their taxis for servicing.
The security industry has also seen quite a few changes in the last year or so. USE has announced that due to their efforts in negotiating with companies and workers, the median wage has been increased to $1,100 from $700 a few years ago, and the Progressive Wage Model that they have implemented will help further increase wage levels to a median wage of $1,300 by 2016. Moving forward, they have also expressed intentions to reduce over-time work, as long working hours is something that has been plaguing the industry. This not only compromises the quality of work, but deters new entrants into the workforce.
According to Secretary General of NTUC Chan Chun Sing, this is part of the Labour Movement’s four-step aim to improve the working conditions in the security sector: training men, improving machines, changing the method, and changing the mindset. Steve Tan, Executive Secretary of USE, shared that this will include introducing many new career tracks, such as that of security specialists, to provide more growth opportunities in the field, as well as introducing a new “uberising” app that will help match ad hoc licensed Security Officers to available jobs.
“We’ve been doing focus groups discussions, largely along SkillsFuture, we’re talking about the Security industry 2025, ten years from now,” says Tan.
By ensuring that security professionals are fit and able for the job, we will rest easy knowing that the buildings and structures they guard are safe.
Since Exercise Heartbeat, my friends and I have often launched into conversation about what would happen in Singapore during an emergency. We’d often use imaginary scenarios of a man stepping out onto the streets with a gun, or with a bomb strapped to his chest. With high-rise buildings all around, what would the first move be? Would people run screaming, some hiding in corners as they call the police? Would anyone step up to save the injured, or try to subdue the armed man?
It was then that I raised the question: “What would the security guards do?” Silence responded.
The role of a security officer in Singapore is a debatable one. We see them often, and yet we hardly notice them. Heck, we probably never feared them or saw them as a symbol of authority. At age 17 I was coaxed into entering a private condominium, heavily guarded with security officers, to visit its roof thirty storeys high. As a bunch of rebellious teenagers, we strolled into the building like we owned the place, took the lift with its residents up to the top floor, and climbed over barricades to its roof.
We did it often. We never got caught.
In this day and age, the fact that we could do what we did scares me, because what could be easily done by a stupid 17-year-old can surely be replicated by someone with ill-intent.
In other countries, the situation may have been different. According to a website of security resources for security-related personnel, a security officer’s job is to prevent and deter crime, and are often trained to perform tasks like making citizen arrests, restraining mavericks, operating emergency equipment, and even performing first aid and CPR.
Security companies like G4S, the largest provider of security officers in the world, even recognise well-performing and brave security officers. In July of this year, two officers were given awards for bravery and professionalism — one for detaining a man who fired a flare gun in a Honolulu Hotel, another for saving a woman from a burning car. In Singapore, security officers making headlines are often shrouded in scandal for bribes or indecent behavior.
The Problem With Singapore’s Security Industry[caption id="attachment_476311" align="alignnone" width="500"] Image Credit: Straits Times[/caption]
To understand why security officers are perceived the way they are, you must first understand the business behind security officers.
To become a security officer, you will need one thing — an ID card. This ID can be obtained by passing two WSQ modules, mandated by the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department. Makes sense, since security officers are part of homeland defense. These WSQ modules are useful, but their effects can be easily negated by a complacent attitude in the workplace and confusing management styles of clients. As revealed by a rookie security guard in a Straits Times expose, the attitude towards regular book-keeping can often be overridden by management or a “this isn’t my problem” attitude. A security guard AMA (ask me anything) in a Singapore subreddit thread shared, “Depending on condo managers, enforcement against these could be super strict (to) “I dont (sic) really care”.”
The industry currently has approximately 75 thousand officers, of which about 43 thousand are full-time security officers. Of this number, a quarter are Malaysian, while the rest are either Singaporeans or Singapore PRs.
The security industry is plagued with low wages. For years, the basic monthly salary for security officers had been stagnant at about $700. Most would hit $1.1-1.3K with a mixture of 12-16 hour shifts and 6-day weeks. But the fact that security officers have to do excessive hours of work means that their energy, and therefore their quality of work, deteriorates. This situation has improved ever since the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) was launched last year.
In addition, the security workforce is aging, and will lose more than a third of their numbers in the next 10 years due to retirement. Without new blood, our current security force of 43K will soon drop to probably 20-25K in due course.
There are some agencies which are able to retain their officers through a combination of perks, training and career progression. However there are other agencies which struggle to meet client demands for cheapest bids, hence they find it difficult to raise wages.
The Shift In The System
The first step to solve the systemic problems is to improve wages, and start to “show people the money”.
It was previously announced that the tripartite partners of government, union and employer associations — which includes the Union of Security Executives (USE) — have launched the PWM, and licensing will go live in September 2016.
These guidelines will set the new basic monthly salary at $1.1K, and expand the previous three-tiered career path to five tiers, allowing for more incremental wage progression as well as more room for career mobility. The tripartite partners have also stated that they will next look at reducing OT hours from 2017 onwards.
The Future of Security
Along with these changes, we have a responsibility to rethink what security means. While several businesses and companies still adhere to the belief that more security officers means a safer environment, chances are the quality of these security officers aren’t justifying their numbers. Ten overworked security officers mean nothing if they are not equipped to deal with real life safety risks.[caption id="attachment_458881" align="alignnone" width="960"] Image Credit: Singapore Police Force’s Facebook page[/caption]
A popular form of security that works with a lesser number of security guards is the concept of “gated communities”, where residential areas make use of walls and fences along with other security measures like surveillance cameras, infrared sensors, motion detectors, and security officers, to segregate security measures. In Sweden, private security officers of gated communities work closely with police officers to do a full security planning of the area, coordinating to minimise and more effectively use the available manpower. This would make sense in Singapore, where the police force and the private security sector both face significant manpower challenges.
We also need to make greater use of technology. The headquarters of G4S, for example, has robotic security guards safeguarding its grounds that use cameras and scanners to map its environment as it patrols and determines if something is out of place. Another robot, called K5, patrols the Microsoft campus by making use of cameras, sensors, navigation equipment, and electric motors to detect strange activity.
“This takes away the monotonous and sometimes dangerous work, and leaves the strategic work to law enforcement or private security, depending on the application,” says Stacy Stephens, co-founder of the Knightscope, the company behind K5’s development.
Japanese firm Secom has also designed a prototype drone that can autonomously survey private grounds and is able to call the police and can be deployed to record intruders from a bird’s eye view when a customer’s alarm system goes off.
Singapore is moving towards being more open to the use of technology, but in comparison to our overseas counterparts, we fall behind in security measures.
No matter how many attempts at solving issues there are, nothing will change without first recognising that there is a problem. If we continue believing that Singapore is safe and impenetrable, we will become blind to its vulnerabilities. Perhaps it is time to return respect to the role of security officers, to regain that first line of defense, and be assured that we can rely on them not on being our cleaners, concierge services, or errand boys, but rather men and women who keep us safe in our homes and places of work.
Chan Chun Sing is fast becoming an important person in Singapore’s political landscape in the next few years, having been elected into Parliament as well as into the role of Secretary General of NTUC. Most recently, he has announced his plans for Singapore’s labour movement, the problems he plans to tackle and the goals he hopes to achieve with the newly-elected members of the 21-member Central Committee (CC) announced.
But what might surprise you about the way Minister Chan works is that he has a strange obsession with the number three. It is a prevalent number in all his speeches, Facebook posts, and the way he structures his goals for Singapore’s Labour Movement in the years to come.
This is probably a small detail, but once you notice it, it’s hard to look away. Each one of his Facebook posts has exactly three points that it has to say, and more often than not, uses three paragraphs to say it.
If you don’t believe us, take a look at his Facebook page and look through each post’s description.
Key Achievements of the Labour Movement
At the beginning of the NTUC National Delegates’ Conference (NDC) on 27 October 2015, Secretary-General of NTUC, Chan, shared the key achievements of the Labour Movement, mostly led by his predecessor Lim Swee Say, the previous Central Committee and the union leaders. The main three, he said, were the work that they did in caring for Low Wage Workers, pushing for Re-employment of Mature workers, and deepening the NTUC’s focus of PME workers.
He shared some statistics: the Progressive Wage Model has benefitted more than 100,000 workers from 300 unionised companies, where the highest wage growth came from the lower percentile. They also called for a change in the retirement and re-employment act in 2012, making it so companies had to re-employ eligible workers beyond the age of 62. The introduction of the U Associates programme is also an aggressive initiative to be relevant to PMEs.
Areas of Concern for the Labour Movement
With a new committee comes a new movement, and the Labour Movement is tackling the new changes that will be affecting Singaporeans. This includes — you guessed it — three main points: changes in the business environment, employee environment, and workers.
With the changes and challenges that businesses are facing, such as faster product cycles, higher labour mobility across borders, and technology advancements, each company will require newer skills and thus employees will be faced with pressure to have higher and newer skills. Technological advancements are slowly displacing low-wage workers, and the struggle to keep Singaporean workers relevant in today’s world is much more imminent.
The Labour Movement’s Strategy moving forward
After recognising all the struggles and concerns, Minister Chan shared that he spent six months visiting union after union and organising small group sessions to hear people out in order to craft NTUC’s strategy moving forward, which exists in — you guessed it again — three key areas: Care, Fair, and Grow.
Care for the workers
A common complaint by many Singapore workers is the difficult cost of living and work-life support. To tackle this, NTUC is going to focus not only on supporting their workers through their social enterprises, such as NTUC FairPrice and NTUC Unity, but also through managing wages through the progressive wage model and promoting a positive and safe work environment for everyone.
Fair treatment of everyone
Often it’s easy to feel taken advantage of in negotiating your livelihood, which is why NTUC aims to strengthen their dispute resolutions and collective bargaining, to make sure that a consensus can be made peacefully.
One such example took place in July 2014, when the SMMWU brought China Airlines Ltd to the Industrial Arbitration Court to negotiate salary ranges for some of their employees. After much negotiation, the court agreed with the union that there was a need to review salaries, and a higher salary range was agreed upon. And we thought unions didn’t do anything.
Growing workers to achieve more
In looking towards the future, the unions will be looking towards not only providing workers with skills needed in the rapidly-changing workplace — as they have evidently secured in SkillsFuture — but also focus on strengthening and growing union leadership and union strength. With unionisation rates growing from one in five in 2002 to one in four in 2014, membership has been growing steadily, but NTUC is looking towards further growth to make sure that more people and companies are being represented beyond the currently existing 1,600 unionised companies.
What he’s bringing to the table
So after all this talk, what is Minister Chan planning to achieve? Well, 3 things: Better jobs for all; Labour Movement for all; and Tripartism for all. The first is easy enough to understand, while the second is more focused on growing the community and the movement behind NTUC. Labour Movement communities such as nEbO, U Family, Young NTUC and U Live are great avenues for activists to make a difference in shaping national policies.
The third point, Tripartism for All, consists of a triplet in itself: a 3-Flow framework to strengthen and grow its leadership. The framework (Flow In, Flow Up and Flow On) was introduced to tackle the problem of a maturing and shrinking union leadership by becoming more inclusive and engaging (flow in), offering training opportunities and developmental roadmaps (flow up), and using advocacy to spread the word about the 3-Flow framework through alumnus and mentor engagement (flow on).
Why the number 3?
Perhaps Minister Chan has an affinity with numerology, which shares that the number 3 brings an energy of optimism and joy — something that is ideal in the beginning of his Labour Movement leadership. Or maybe it’s just a way for him to make the activities of the Labour Movement much more inclusive — breaking down his points into three’s seems to make the numerous goals that he has on his plate much more digestible.
Either way, it’s difficult to unsee the three’s in everything he says or does now. What will we see from his work in 3 years’ time, I wonder?
This year is the first time Singapore has hosted the International Forum on Tripartism (IFT). Inviting several delegates from other countries practicing the tripartism framework, such as Japan, Barbados, and Denmark, international players came together to discuss each country’s experience in using this unique method to grow and support their labour market.
The event may sound like a yawn off-hand. A bunch of people gathered in a room to discuss nation-growing tactics. But from this yawn came a very fundamental understanding that staggered me — all these people believed that cooperation could grow a nation.
That’s essentially what this clunky word of tripartism means. That in the labour market, all the major players come together to work out their issues at a single table. Workers sit with employers and government officials, and everyone works their way through wage or welfare disputes, through peaceful times like now and unstable times like epidemics and recessions. Even now, when the haze is at its worst, tripartism is at work helping workers and businesses come up with a framework that allows for flexible working hours and healthcare.
And surprisingly, this is something that Singapore is very good at. Some say tripartism is our secret sauce.
The keynote speaker of the IFT event on Monday was Guy Ryder, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), an international alliance that has been around for even longer than the United Nations. The ILO is the UN body that champions tripartism globally. In his speech on Monday, Mr Ryder shared that Singapore has become a model to emulate amongst tripartite nations.[caption id="attachment_428901" align="aligncenter" width="1482"] Image Credit: NTUC[/caption]
He began by quoting UN official Albert Winsemius, who said in 1984: “The ‘Singapore Miracle’ isn’t a miracle, but a product of hard-headed policy.”
“We all base tripartism on the basis of the results it generates,” said Mr Ryder. “And in Singapore…the results are there for everybody to see in terms of economic growth, in terms of employment, in terms of improved living conditions. And I think Singapore tripartism passes the essential test of good results.”
The problem with trust
The keyword in Singapore’s tripartite movement is trust. It was a word said often that day by Secretary General of NTUC Chan Chun Sing, Minister of Manpower Lim Swee Say, and even Dr Robert Yap, President of the Singapore National Employers Federation. Trust is the glue that has held everything together and made everything work. And yet, trust is the weakest link in most tripartite movements the world over.
With the dramatisation of conflict in displaying the strength of unions in most parts of the world, some people still find it hard to accept that a gentlemen’s handshake is adequate to build a stable workforce. It’s enough to make the most skeptical of us furrow a brow, and understandably.
As Minister Lim pointed out, many still believe that “strong tripartism means weak unionisation, or strong unionisation means weak tripartism”.
This problem of trust has turned out to be an international one. The ILO is often still met with skepticism. And according to Mr Ryder, even parties who see how national objectives are met through negotiations, consultations and exchange of information between representatives of interested parties, remain unwilling to openly speak about it.
But there, in that room on Monday, were people who spent an entire day discussing how trust and cooperation had helped build a nation. Delegates shared their different types of social dialogue: whether it involved bipartite relations between labour and management, or tripartite relations that bring in government involvement. They shared how it has helped craft harmonious relations in the workforce in their countries, the problems they face, and the ways we can resolve them.
Whatever you choose to call it — tripartism here in Singapore, social dialogue amongst social partners in other member states of ILO — the intent is to have an open and positive dialogue to solve problems together. The hardware, i.e., the framework and all, is easy to set up; it is the software — what we call trust — that is harder. And it is trust that can ultimately make or break the deal.
And in Singapore, the outcome speaks for itself — a country that just hit 50 years old, but has barely lost any manpower hours to strikes since the 70s. Singapore has seen the most results with our brand of social dialogue, and it took an international gathering of people using the same framework to show us that.
As the event drew to a close, the people in attendance at the event began to ask what the future holds for tripartism. The nature of business, of work, of everything is evolving quickly. As Mr Ryder shared, people are expecting very different things from work today than they are 50 years ago. Work may fundamentally be a way for us to meet our material needs, but in reality, it is so much more.
Dealing with change, according to Mr Ryder, is something that Singapore does well.
“The world of work does not stand still,” said Mr Ryder. “The world of work is changing and we need to adapt to that, not tomorrow but very quickly. There are problems ahead, don’t close your eyes to them, recognise them, and respond to them. And this is historically something that Singapore has done extraordinarily well.”
“You think of what is coming down the road at you and you prepare and plan for it, and my impression from this visit is, as I say, on this historic occasion of SG50, you’re already thinking for the next challenges, and I think that is absolutely vital and fundamental for your future success.”[caption id="attachment_428911" align="alignnone" width="1480"] Image Credit: NTUC[/caption]
The challenge is real, and it’s about trust
Our Singaporean obsession with SG100 has led us to predict challenges in the advancements of technology and globalisation, but another huge challenge that tripartism faces is the skeptical next generation. A generation of educated and supposedly worldly millennials who only know of comfortable lives.
As the congregation of delegates look ahead to the future, there is a very real risk that tripartism might become…unpopular, or negated to just government-speak. The less trust the younger generation has in the system that has worked for the last five decades, the less likely tripartism will withstand the test of time. In this new generation that has made confrontation and vigilantism on the Internet so popular, it’s difficult to imagine them believing that cooperation could mean strength.
Tripartism’s successes through the 60s and 70s are fast becoming old news in a world where real news only lasts for hours. And as economic cycles get shorter and changes become diverse, trust becomes expensive.
The fact that we have yet to escape from (mostly!) men in stuffy suits and even stuffier speeches when discussing tripartism, with made-up words like “futurisation”, brings to question how they will communicate effectively to the next generations that you CAN put your trust in another party, like employers, unions, or the government, to take care of you. (Futurisation: coined by Minister Lim Swee Say to refer to the ability of a nation to move faster into the future and remain ahead of the competition.)
It doesn’t even matter that the unions are working quietly to help and support over 888,000 members and over 1,600 unionised companies, because nobody knows very much about tripartism, or about what goes on behind the scenes. Nobody really knows that the easy-breezy environment that we operate in today is, really, the outcome of successful tripartism.
But perhaps it’s time we ponder the perennially popular and yet irritatingly lame question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, did it still make a sound? Don’t laugh, this question has been floating around for years and years. Most people say ‘yes’. So, by the same logic, if successful tripartite negotiations have taken place to create the efficient system and effective environment we have, then tripartism really HAS made an impact even if we weren’t there to see it happen. Creating noise and conflict may be eye-catching, but having a balanced negotiation and coming to a peaceful consensus is effective.[caption id="attachment_428921" align="alignnone" width="1486"] Image Credit: NTUC[/caption]
As Minister Lim said in his closing speech, the next generation is essential for tripartism to continue to flourish. “During good times,” he said, “It is important that we continue to build trust so that when it comes to difficult times, there are sufficient trust amongst the partners for us to work together.”
Perhaps it’s our cynical nature that holds us back, or maybe we just don’t know enough about tripartism and all that jazz. But it is worrying if over time, we keep losing faith that we could build a better and stronger nation with sheer trust and cooperation, and in doing so, lose the possibility that we can help everyone, even ourselves, just with a single gentlemen’s handshake.
We can probably do better.
As we celebrate SG50 this year, many of us have become nostalgic and are looking back to reminisce Singapore’s past. We drudge up childhood memories and squeal over traditional toys, thinking about a simpler life catching spiders while children these days play with iPads instead. But as we remember the good of the past, it’s also important to remember how far we’ve come. Progress has made it such that life at Singapore’s 50th birthday is much better than it used to be at independence, especially for those working in Singapore.
Here are 7 things that were staples in the working world in the 60’s that we’re glad to be rid of in the 21st century.
1. Daily-Rated Salary
While we’re used to thinking of our salaries as part of a monthly system, there was a time when daily-rated salaries was a norm. People who were paid their salaries daily often made up the poorer lot, and took up blue-collared work like grave-digging, road-sweeping, and incineration plant management. This meant that they often weren’t very mobile, and pay increases were really, really negligible.
It was only in 1992 that the Amalgamated Union of Public Daily Rated Workers (AUPDRW) — a union protecting the interests of these daily rated workers — helped these workers gain access to skills development and negotiations with their employers. Through a tripartite effort amongst the Government, union and employers, much effort has gone into bettering the lives of these daily rated workers via multi-faceted approaches.
Since then, the union membership has halved, decreasing to 700 members from its 1,300 members in 1992. This is a unique situation where the union is actually happy with a decreasing membership base.
One beneficiary is pest control worker Jasmin Mohamed Ali, who earns about $1,200 a month. Armed with only primary one education, he shared that he has benefited from various courses, including a vocational license that now allows him to work part-time as a driver to bring in more money to support his four children.
2. Bad economy = Get Fired[caption id="attachment_406731" align="aligncenter" width="1320"] Image Credit: InSing[/caption]
When Singapore slipped into recession in the mid-1980s, it caused widespread panic that many people were going to be retrenched to help companies save costs. In order to help the country recover, our unions decided to forego the 1985 wage increases recommended by the National Wage Council (NWC). Instead, NTUC led the unions to introduce a flexible wage system that would temporarily cut wages until companies were able to recover, and accepted cuts in employers’ contributions to workers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF). This allowed Singapore to recover from the recession while minimising the number of jobs lost.
While earning less money is never a happy experience, having a lower-paying job is still preferable to losing your job completely, especially in the middle of a crisis. This has helped Singapore through the worst recessions, softening the blow that may have caused widespread unemployment. Later, the Government as well as business leaders credited NTUC’s actions for Singapore’s quick recovery from the recession.
This is an effective demonstration of how it is often better to work together for the collective interests of all parties, rather than to adopt an adversarial stance and fight with one another, when the common ‘enemy’ is the economic downturn.
It is no wonder that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had spoken positively of the relationship between the Government and unions, calling it the strongest and the longest-lasting in the world. He said this during the May Day Rally earlier this year: “Our unions are equal partners with employers and the Government. The Government, workers and employers in Singapore are partners in growing and upgrading the economy. This tripartite system has produced results not just over one or two terms of government, but for 50 years.”
3. Unequal rights for both blue and white collar workers[caption id="attachment_406751" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Image Credit: InSing[/caption]
It used to make a difference whether you worked in the office or at a construction site. The rights you were entitled to were different: in the 60’s, blue-collar workers only got seven days of annual leave, as compared to the 14 days that white-collar workers got.
With the 1968 Employment Act, this was standardised, so that all workers were entitled to the same amount of leave — seven days — and they all had the opportunity to increase that number to 14 after 10 years of service.
The current framework is an improved version, allowing for an incremental increase of annual leave with each additional year of service: 8 days after 1 year of service, 9 days after 2 years of service, and so on.
4. No support for the non-English speaking
In a multi-cultural and multi-lingual city like Singapore, languages play a big part in the workplace. With many international companies coming into the country, many Singaporeans struggled to adapt without English-speaking abilities, and those who were unable to speak English were often passed over when it came to employment or promotion.
To counter this, Workplace Literacy (WPL) training was introduced in 2004 to provide Singaporean low-wage workers (LWWs) with the opportunity to improve their English. Over the last decade, over 100,000 workers (and counting) have attempted the WPL assessment, and more than 14,000 have benefitted from the WPL training.
Just how recognised is WPL? Well, over 5,300 employers and training institutions recognise the enhanced programme of Workplace Literacy and Numeracy (WPLN) credentials as an alternative recruitment and entry requirement to GCE N/O level qualifications, giving everyone the opportunity to improve themselves at any education level and age.
5. Aggressive and Combative Unions[caption id="attachment_406761" align="aligncenter" width="633"] Image Credit: Channel NewsAsia[/caption]
Unions in the past often took an aggressive approach towards making their demands, and with more conflict than cooperation happening at discussions with companies and the Government, unresolved issues were common and relationships were strained.
One such example was the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955, the year that older generations may remember as ‘Singapore’s blackest year of industrial unrest’ with at least 271 strikes recorded. The Hock Lee bus riots started brewing in late April and took a violently bloody turn on 12 May 1955, also known as Black Thursday.
Trouble began when workers from left-wing trade union, Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU), were dismissed by Hock Lee Amalgamated Bus Company as the management did not agree with the trade union’s militant methods in fighting for workers’ rights. The dismissed workers went on strike and were joined by supporters and Chinese middle school students. This crippled the city’s transport system, and eventually escalated into a riot that killed two police officers, a student, and an American press correspondent, leaving many more injured. You can read more here.
Nowadays, Singapore’s unions are no longer violent or combative. The tripartite framework, which supports cooperation between companies, unions, and the Government, brings the three parties to come to a consensus through collective agreements. Strikes are only sanctioned when absolutely necessary to come to a consensus, and only one legal strike has taken place since the tripartite agreement began — this was controlled to a peaceful picketing. Contrary to popular belief, strikes are not illegal in Singapore. In fact, the Ministry of Labour approved one in 1986; heard of the Hydril strike?
Aggressive unions are still seen in other countries, and they often disrupt daily life for citizens, something that is hardly seen in Singapore anymore! The role of trade unions in Singapore today are centered around promoting good industrial relations between workers and employers, instead of creating conflict and strife. Effective unions do not need strikes.
6. No Paternity leave[caption id="attachment_406781" align="aligncenter" width="1318"] Image Credit: PopSugar[/caption]
There’s nothing worse than not being there for your child, but it used to be a reality that fathers often had to miss the first few months of their child’s life for work. Mothers were granted maternity leave, but paternity leave was hardly heard of when tradition dictated that men work as a family’s breadwinner.
It was only in 2000 that Singaporean employers began offering paid paternity leave. Since then, it has increased from 3 days to 2 weeks, giving fathers more autonomy to be with their families at its most crucial moments. After all, work and family shouldn’t have to be trade-offs.
7. Workplace Discrimination[caption id="attachment_406811" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Image Credit: PixaBay[/caption]
Before there was any regulation against workplace discrimination, companies were free to decide against hiring or promoting an employee based on attributes other than their work performance, such as age, race, gender, or religion. That made for unjust treatment for many workers.
It was only after the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) was set up that companies were held responsible for fair employment. Companies that have signed the pledge to abide by TAFEP must provide their employees with equal opportunities for development, and judge them based solely on their abilities and experience.
While workplace discrimination hasn’t been completely eradicated yet, TAFEP’s guidelines have helped create a framework where employees can report discrimination, and employers can work to keep it out of their companies, making Singapore a fairer place to work in since 50 years ago!
The labour movement has come so far since the struggles the working class faced in the 60’s, and so much has changed for the better for all of us today. Some people have wondered about the strong ties between unions and the Government, and a few have questioned why we have a labour chief in Cabinet — but why not?
It can benefit the unions and the workers by having a person of power and influence in the Government. And right in the Prime Minister’s Office, too. This can help ensure that workers’ voices are heard and represented during policy-making and major decision-making. Surely that is better than organising a strike to protest and to have our voices heard AFTER policies have been formulated?
Our unique brand of tripartism can help make pro-workers changes — like the seven we’ve discussed above — happen faster. In fact, Singapore’s labour movement is constantly working behind the scenes to make sure that many more changes will help Singapore workers get opportunities to improve their skills, while at the same time being able to be there for their family and loved ones.
Hopefully by SG100, we’ll have many more changes to be proud of.
Talk about the green movement here in Singapore, and you’re likely to be met with more uninterested expressions than concerned ones. Just think of the times you bought something from the supermarket, for example, and accepted a plastic bag despite the cash rebate you get when you refuse one. Or the instances when you threw a plastic bottle into the trash can even though the recycling bin was just next to it.
But if you think that these point to Singaporeans being less than enthusiastic when it comes to going green, you’d be pretty much mistaken. Here are 5 ways in which we are — and can be — more involved in the green movement than you think.
1. We Drink Water Made Out Of Human Waste[caption id="attachment_309771" align="aligncenter" width="724"] Image Credit: s22011happypeople.pbworks.com[/caption]
Okay so this isn’t all that unexpected: every Singaporean knows about NEWater, the recycled potable water produced by Singapore’s Public Utilities Board. Most of us have, at some point in time, drunk from a bottle of it at various national events. We’ve also learnt at school about how some of it is derived, quite literally, from human waste — and proceeded to make numerous inappropriate jokes about it.
But what we might not be aware of is that NEWater is not just about ensuring we have a constant, dependable source of clean water — it’s a nod to the green movement as well. Through the process of water treatment, waste water is, in effect, recycled — with recycling being one of the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) that forms a major part of the global green movement.[caption id="attachment_309911" align="aligncenter" width="727"] Image Credit: www.theguardian.com[/caption]
Of course, NEWater can only truly be a green initiative if you recycle the bottle after you’re done drinking from it.
Fun Fact: NEWater meets some 30% of Singapore’s water needs currently, and this figure is set to rise to 40% by 2020. It is the Singapore Government’s aim to be completely self-sufficient in terms of our water needs by 2061.
2. Shopping — A Green Hobby?
Environmentally friendly shopping might seem like a counter-intuitive concept: after all, a higher level of consumption means that more energy is being expended on processes like manufacturing and transport, right?
Wrong.[caption id="attachment_309921" align="aligncenter" width="725"] Image Credit: Flickr[/caption]
It’s becoming increasingly convenient these days to get our hands on organic, locally-produced goods, especially when it comes to food and skincare products. These come with a lighter carbon footprint, as items made using locally-sourced ingredients greatly reduce the amount of energy needed to transport them to manufacturers and consumers.
Stores, as well as supermarket chains, are starting to bring in eco-friendly options for consumers. This means that green options are no longer as unaffordable as they were before. So go on, indulge yourself — the Great Singapore Sale is not quite over yet.
Fun Fact: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) keeps a regularly updated list of brands and companies that are earth-friendly. It breaks down the list even further to indicate if businesses are vegan or working towards removing undesirable practices.
3. Green-Collar Jobs: The Future of The Economy[caption id="attachment_309981" align="aligncenter" width="725"] Image Credit: PARKROYAL on Pickering[/caption]
Here’s something that might be new to many of us. Blue- and white-collar jobs are familiar terms to most, but green-collar jobs?
Well, put simply, these are jobs in which workers deal with the various aspects of conserving and preserving both our natural and man-made spaces, and ensuring the sustainability of a company or organisation’s practices. And given the growing global concern over the state of our environment, there’s been a rise in recent years of jobs relating to the green movement.[caption id="attachment_309991" align="aligncenter" width="723"] Image Credit: www.techwireasia.com[/caption]
This sector has grown so quickly, in fact, that there’s now a green industry in Singapore revolving around Facilities Management and Maintenance (FMM), as well as a whole host of diploma, degree, and Master’s programmes aimed at training citizens who might wish to enter the industry: graduates can take on diverse jobs in the sector, ranging from the management and operation of buildings, to overseeing the use of resources, and planning and marketing of green events.[caption id="attachment_310001" align="aligncenter" width="726"] Image Credit: www.asiagreenbuildings.com[/caption]
And it might be a smart move to start finding out more about the sector, if you haven’t already: in a speech by NTUC Secretary-General Chan Chun Sing at a Sustainable FMM Master Class, he urged more Singaporeans to take up positions in the FMM sector, explaining how the industry will play a big role in keeping Singapore’s economy healthy:
“I would really like to encourage you all… to see how we can make breakthroughs in this area of facilities management, which is often neglected; to put our hearts and minds into seeing where we can create new advantage, just as how we have created for the water industry many years ago [in the form of NEWater]. If we do that well, we will have yet another external link to depend on to launch our economy into a new platform.”
This FMM Master Class took place at NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), and was the first for the FMM sector. Organised in collaboration with the Real Estate and Construction Centre (RECC), it seeks to prepare industry practitioners for changes in the facilities management landscape, such as dealing with sustainability issues during every stage in a building’s life cycle.
It’s evident that the green industry is a sector that’s only going to grow over time, yet with it being a relatively lesser-known field, there is a shortage of workers with relevant skills to offer. To fix this, the Labour Movement will work with the industry to help equip workers with Future-Ready skills, helping workers towards bettering their jobs, their pay and ultimately, their lives.
Fun Fact: To achieve the target for 80% of our buildings in Singapore — both old and new — to be Green Mark certified by 2030, we need about 6,000 facilities management professionals.
4. Buildings: They Can Be Green Too![caption id="attachment_310011" align="aligncenter" width="725"] Image Credit: www.news.gov.sg[/caption]
The last thing most of us would associate with being green is a building. After all, the skyscrapers we’re so used to seeing in Singapore can’t do anything to help save the planet, can they?
Actually, they can: we might not be aware of this, but Singapore is a pretty big proponent of making sure our built environment stays as eco-friendly as possible — a good move, considering just how many buildings are crammed onto our tiny island.
And to further the green movement, we already have in place plans to make sure that 80% of all our buildings attain the Green Mark certification — a measure of how environmentally sustainable a building is — by 2030. Currently, 25% of our buildings have been awarded the Green Mark, one of which is the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School: the building uses ceramic tiles that contain titanium dioxide, a low-maintenance material that can withstand tropical mould and is believed to reduce pollution in the air.[caption id="attachment_310021" align="aligncenter" width="726"] The Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Image Credit: hubhomedesign.com)[/caption]
If you’re one of the lucky few already working or living in an eco-friendly space, good for you — but the rest of us won’t have to wait that much longer either!
Fun Fact: It is highly unusual for any government to be involved in setting up NGOs (non-government organizations), but that was what happened here on our shores. Singapore’s building authority was instrumental in the creation of our very first NGO to champion green building awareness.
The NGO, Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC), was set up in 2009, and has since grown and evolved from just a body that helps create awareness into a powerful green building advocate that has put Singapore on the global map. Read the back story here.
5. We Can Drive, Save Money (Kind Of) And Be Green — All At Once
By this, I mean eco-friendly cars, of course. In Singapore, cars are deemed to be green — or not — based on the amount of carbon emissions they produce. And depending on the make and model of the car you own, you can receive rebates ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, according to the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme (CEVS).[caption id="attachment_310031" align="aligncenter" width="726"] Image Credit: www.carmudi.com.ph[/caption]
This means that instead of having to give up your creature comforts, you can go right ahead and buy your own vehicle, and save money at the same time. Goodness knows we could really use those rebates, what with those out-of-reach COE prices — and yes, the ERP too.
That said, car ownership — no matter how green the vehicle may be — just cannot be as eco-friendly as taking public transport. Or better, yet, walking and cycling! After all, as the LTA puts it, “The greenest car is one that does not exist.”
Fun Fact: Other than saving Mother Earth, other advantages of walking and cycling — apart from health benefits — include a reduction in absenteeism costs and boosting local trade. Research has found that health benefits from walking and cycling have saved the UK more than £7 billion over the past 20 years. An additional £200 million a year in absenteeism costs has been avoided, as well as 30 million kgs of carbon emission.