"A global economy in which people do not have the right to organize will lack social legitimacy. People organizing themselves to make their voices heard exercise a fundamental human right and the most important development right." - Dr. Juan Somavia, Director General of the ILO
ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is a commitment by all ILO member States, regardless of their level of economic development, cultural values, history, or the number of ILO Conventions ratified. All ILO Members, even if they have not ratified the Conventions in question, have an obligation arising from the very fact of membership in the Organization, to respect, promote, and realize these principles and rights:
(a) freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
(b) the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour;
(c) the effective abolition of child labour;
(d) the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.
These principles and rights at work have been expressed and developed in the ILO Conventions viewed as fundamental by the International Labour Organization as such:
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
Singapore ratified ILO Convention No. 98, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (1949), in 1965 but it has not ratified ILO Convention No. 87, the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (1948).
Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105)
Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100) and Discrimination, 1958 (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 No. 111
Collective agreements have to be certified by Industrial Arbitration Courts before coming into effect, following which point they become legally enforceable. The Industrial Arbitration Courts can refuse certification at their discretion on grounds of public interest - although this has never happened.
The Industrial Arbitration Courts can also refuse certification for collective agreements in newly established enterprises if they provide for conditions more favourable than the legal minimum laid down in the Employment Act. This applies for a period of five years and can be extended.
Singapore needs to revoke those labour laws which deny trade union rights, and bring its legislation on freedom of association and collective bargaining in line with minimum internationally -recognised core labour standards.
Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.
If freedom of association is not respected and promoted, there can be no collective bargaining or meaningful social dialogue. Freedom of association gives a voice to workers and employers too.
In Singapore, the Trade Union Act is a key tool used by the government to make the fundamental change in industrial relations from confrontations [pro-workers] in the 1950s and 1960s to cooperation [pro-business] from the 1970s. The Industrial Relations Act and its Regulations deals with Labour-management relations.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is recognized but is it practiced?
Sources and Relevant Links:
Tim De Meyer ILO fundamental principles and rights at work in Asia Pacific: Emerging standards for emerging markets? CAS Discussion paper No 28
ICFTU ICFTU Launches Campaign: You Have Rights! 02 May 2001
Think Centre Core Labour rights in Singapore
Think Centre "Decent Work Deficit"
Think Centre Want to Work: Sign away your rights