Singaporean Industrial Relations System

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If there is any complex problem in the current society at all, it is the problem of industrial relations. There can be no advancement industrial-wise without good relations between the labor forces and the industrial management. As such, for smooth industrial development, there have to be good relations between the employer, the employees, and the government in general. In most cases, these relations comprise the connection between business organizations, employee groups, the government, and the available institutions that help in resolving industrial disputes. The meaning currently applies to mean the culture of collective bargaining, employment of trade unions, and management of labor relations. This paper looks at the Singaporean industrial relations system, and it shall thus seek to discuss the history of Singapore with specific attention to industrial relations.

Essay Body

There are three observable changes that transformed Singapore’s industrial relations. The transformations took place during the period when the People’s Action Party took to over office after general elections in 1959 and also in 1986 (Yew, 2000). The government had the desire to make Singapore an Industrialized country and in order to achieve that it facilitated the passing of the Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1960. The Ordinance was to regulate and provide a framework for collective bargaining, solving industrial disputes and the use of judiciary to act as an industrial arbitrator. The next step of the plan was the employment of the Internal Security Ordinance of 1948 in purpose to manage the opposition and promote trade unions for instance National Trades Unions Congress.

All mentioned above was quite an easy task since The Trades Disputes Act of 1941 and the Criminal Law Act of 1955 had already restricted the unions from involvement in certain forms of strikes and industrial actions. From the government illegalizing all the industrial strikes in the provision of vital services to deregistering firms that violated this law, industrial history in Singapore drastically changed. The workers had no option but to follow the plans put in place by the government regarding labor laws (Lee, 2000).

From what I have mentioned earlier, there was a significant role played by the Employment Act of 1968 and the newly passed Industrial Relations Act an amendment Act of 1968. The move was aimed to tame the loss of employment and to also illegalize union actions on some matters such as initiating collective agreement issues of managerial prerogative. Through the same Employment Act, conditions for employment including provisions for minimum terms of employment were made (Wilson, 2011). As noted, this saw a decline in dispute cases although there was a drastic drop in the number of trade union members (Ministry of Labour, Annual Report 1968-1971). Further, of much importance was the reformation of the National Trades Unions Congress before 1970. It also saw the birth of consumer associations and the provision of welfare services as highlighted by Choy (2012).

All the above laid the grounds for stable industrial relations in Singapore. Many things came to boost this and amongst them was the enactment of the National Wages Council Act of 1972. In addition to this, there was a strong body – the National Wages Council that was established in accordance with the said Act (Tan, 2004). The Act functioned to promote relations between employers and employees and set forth requirements for employment amongst other rights and duties those employers and workers had to observe. Similarly, the statutorily mandated authority- the National Wages Council, functioned to regulate the different players in the industry thus coming as both an overseer and regulatory body. As such, it helped a deal in facilitating economic growth by making clear rights and duties of employers and employees.

Industrial relations in Singapore went through a weird route in that the system was changed from one to another just to foster economic development. There was no freedom for bodies to get involved in strikes. Trade disputes were restricted in the name of creating an environment that could facilitate economic development (Akkemik, 2008). The systems transformed from colonial means of administration to regulated pluralism; controlled pluralism to corporatism and from corporatism to corporate paternalism (Tan, 2004). It was because of the fact that the economic development of Singapore has been growing and for a long time remained stable amid other worldwide economic problems (Peelbes, & Wilson, 2012).

Indeed it has been a long journey with downfalls due to inadequate policies that require to be reviewed (Mauzy & Milne, 2002), and it is a great success that better policies were implemented to foster economic development. Sometimes there were strong objections to the policies that resulted in conflicts. At certain points, the definition of the trade unions’ role had to be changed in order to ensure that trade unions facilitated economic growth than disrupting the development plans (Leggett, 1993). Other events that followed included the fourth transformation of industrial relations. The events also led to Singapore’s move to reform its labor force to be in line with the global developments through its Ministry of Manpower. These events demanded a globally acceptable workforce, use of new technology and also incorporated the globalization of markets (Locke, Kochan & Piore, 1995).

National Trades Unions Congress’ strategy on manpower in 1997 (National Trades Unions Congress, 1997); the employer’s proposals on the planning of manpower (Singapore National Employers’ Federation, 1997), workforce planning strategies propelled by Ministry of Manpower in 1999 and the National Wages Council plan on competitive base wage in 2004 (Ministry of Manpower, 2004; Chew & Chew, 1995), were all directed to seeing Singapore become economically developed hence the continued success and economic development of Singapore. The strategies advanced from one step to another in line with global trends placing Singapore in a better position to solve its economic development issues (Ee, 2001).


In conclusion, proper resource management is necessary for the success of any industry. A manager’s role in this regard is guiding policy change and implementation to facilitate sustainable growth of the organizations they manage, as well as overcome industry challenges. Towards this end, it is imperative for managers to be visionary leaders who can not only formulate and implement effective policies but also make critical decisions that promote efficiency in the organization’s day-to-day activities. Singapore’s experience exemplifies the importance of effective organizational management in promoting economic growth both at the industry and national levels. Imitating the Singaporean model will undoubtedly achieve positive changes in other similar industry settings.


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Chew, B S & Chew R 1995, Employment Driven Industrial Relations Regimes, The Singapore, First Edition, Avenbury.

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Ee, B L 2001, Managing the Crisis, National Trades Union Congress, Singapore

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Leggett, C 1993, Corporatist Trade Unionism in Singapore, in S. Frenkel (ed.) Organized Labor in the Asia-Pacific Region, ILR Press, pp. 223-246, New York.

Locke, R, Kochan, T & Piore, M 1995, ‘Reconceptualising Comparative Industrial Relations: Lessons from International Research’, International Labour Review, Vol. 134, No. 2, pp. 139-161.

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Wilson, P 2011, Challenges For The Singapore Economy After the Global Financial Crisis, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd, Singapore.

Kuan Yew, L 2000, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story- 1965-2000, HaperColins Publishers Inc.

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