Introduction A trade union is generally seen as an organization of workers who have collectively banded together to improve their working conditions and enhance their status in society. (Tan 2007) Both trade unions in Singapore and China are similar in most important aspects, with some minor differences. Their functions, system, objectives, roles and relationship with their governments are rather similar. Their union structure and sizes are, however different.
The main roles of trade unions in Singapore and China however, are seen to be rather different as compared to traditional trade unions. I do agree that the trade unions in these two countries are not really trade unions as they are fundamentally different from the unions in Western democracies. This essay will address some main similarities, differences, problems of the NTUC and the ACFTU and justifications to why they are not really trade unions. Objectives and Missions
The main objectives of a trade union are to represent union members to seek better wages, terms and working conditions from their employers through collective bargaining, protecting the jobs of its members, forging a close working relationship with the workers for the benefit of the workers, and in some countries, play an active role in politics. (Tan 2007) Both the NUTC and ACFTU do not really follow the conventional union model. The defined mission of the NTUC seeks to help Singapore stay competitive, enhance the social status and well being of workers and to build a strong, responsible and caring labour movement (Tan 2007).
While in China, the ACFTU seeks to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of workers and staff members while protecting the overall interests of the entire Chinese people (Warner 2008). System and Structure The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) of Singapore and the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) follow a rather similar tripartite system. In this system, Unions, the government and employers are supposed to work closely to help each other achieve their needs. In China, workers are represented by the ACFTU, one of the largest trade unions in the world, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at its helm.
Employers in China are represented by the Chinese Enterprise Directors Association (CEDA) and the Ministry of Labour acts as the figurehead for the state (Warner 2008). The highest leading bodies of the ACFTU are the National Congress of Trade Unions and the Executive Committee. Several geographically organized industrial trade unions have been established according to the needs and structures of industries, local unions and the ACFTU (Ng & Warner 1998). There are currently 31 provincial trade union federations, 10 national industrial unions and 1. 24 million grassroots trade union organizations affiliated to the ACFTU (ACFTU 2007). In Singapore, the workers are represented by the NTUC, employers represented by the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the People’s Action Party will be the figurehead for the state. The Delegates conference, is the highest policy making body of the NTUC. Decisions made by the Delegates’ Conference will be carried out by a 21 member NTUC Central Committee. The Central Committee elects all key positions every four years by secret ballot. There are currently 60 trade unions and 6 taxi associations affiliated to the NTUC (NTUC 2009).
Government Relations Trade unions in both China and Singapore both have close relations with their government. Leaders of the unions tend to be a standing member in their government party. Both the NTUC and ACFTU are widely seen as a de facto arm of the government (Barr 2000) and their role would be to serve the interest of the ruling parties (Taylor & Li 2007). The powers of the chairperson of both the NTUC and the ACFTU are not seem to be derived from the head of the organization as a leading political figure is put into that position (Ng & Warner 1998).
These points suggest that the ACFTU and NTUC are merely there to carry out government policy. Although Trade Union Law in China states that trade union officers at each level should be elected, it is often ignored and most officials are appointed in China, which is a clear violation of the Trade Union Law. The ACTFU is usually seen as a ‘transmission belt’ organization, relaying the ruling CCP’s directives and policy downwards and transmitting grassroots opinion upwards.
In Singapore, there are currently 15 ruling party members with direct or former ties to the NTUC while another four serve as appointed NTUC advisors (ITUC 2009), These are clear indications that it the unions are considered to be an important instrument of their ruling parties as they serve as a mouthpiece for organized labour at all levels of government as well as a conduit for carrying out government policy to the workforce (Leggett 2008). The People’s Action Party has been the ruling political party of Singapore since 1959. Barr (2000, p. 83) commented that the ‘peak leadership of the NTUC is a gift of the prime minister (Lee Kwan Yew at that time) and that the prime minister was pursuing a policy of inducting an elitist, technocratic leadership into the trade union movement’. Union Welfare The ACFTU has established many safety inspection committees and to carry out safety inspection. This is their effort to enhance the safety awareness of workers. Sanatoriums have been opened in scenic spots around the country to build up the health of the workers. A large number of recreational and sports activities have been organized to add spice and colour to workers’ spare time.
Cultural clubs, libraries, stadiums and gymnasiums have also been built for workers. Educational institutes and training centers have been set up to provide training and upgrading programmes for workers (ACFTU 2007). The NTUC provides welfare to union workers and their families through several cooperatives set up by themselves. Some examples are the NTUC FairPrice Supermarket, dental clinics, pharmacies, medical clinics, childcare centers, food courts, resorts and a learning hub. These cooperatives aim to provide services to union members at affordable prices (Tan 2007). Union members usually get discounts when patronizing these cooperatives.
The Lack of Choices In Singapore, union members do not have to power to accept or reject collective agreements negotiated between their union representatives and the employer. Workers have the right to join trade unions or, subject to the approval of the Registrar of Trade Unions, form a union when there are seven or more prospective members. While in China, there are only regulations on collective contracts. Any collective contract established in line with the regulations is legally binding. Workers have the right to conclude a collective contract only in an enterprise where the trade union has not yet been set up.
The ACFTU is accused of “representing” workers to management and government structures without actually discussing, listening or informing the workers. Workers from the private sectors are also denied the ability to organize and form independent unions where the ACFTU branches do no exist (IHLO 2009). They are also not free to form or join any trade unions of their choice as only the ACFTU is recognized in law (ITUC 2009). The workers thus faces insurmountable obstacles to collective bargaining and representation as they are rather powerless, have little say in the policy and have a lack of choices.
Many unionists are angry at the inequality and working condition of the workers, but the system does not provide them with an effective mechanism to air their grievances and views (Taylor & Li 2007). Due to the poor working conditions, including the denial of basic trade union rights and freedom of association in Chinese owned enterprises, China has been seeing massive numbers of strikes and demonstrations, demanding improved working conditions and the right to form independent trade unions.
Many workers have also been affected by funds embezzlement and massive corruption by private enterprise owners and officials and nothing much is being down by the ACFTU (ITUC 2009). The ACFTU cannot represent workers’ interests as there is a limitation that arises from its dependent relation with the ruling CCP. (Taylor & Li 2007). This clearly reflects on the poor efficiency, ineffectiveness and inability of the ACFTU. Strikes are uncommon in Singapore probably because of the government’s tight reign on industrial action.
NTUC also provides programmes and initiatives to provide help for workers in need of assistance. Some examples would be the Job Recreation for Lower Value Jobs, Job Redesign for Older Workers and Job Placement Services and Support. Conclusion In traditional trade unions, the main role of the trade unions is to mainly benefit the workers and not the government. Although there is much welfare provided to the union members, it is rather insufficient as these welfares are not the main reasons why workers join the unions in the first place.
Workers should have a say in collective bargaining and union leaders selection. The unions should not have an obligation to carry out state policy and workers be free to join any trade union of their choices and not be left with only one choice in the case of China, as the other unions would be illegal in the eyes of the law. As the parties and unions are so closely fused, the ACFTU and NTUC are far removed from the voluntaristic trade unions that characterize many parts of the world. These points have argued that both the ACFTU and NTUC cannot be considered as trade unions as they are too government controlled. 568 words ACFTU 2007, A Brief Introduction of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), ACFTU, China, viewed 31st January 2010, http://english. acftu. org/template/10002/file. jsp? cid=63&aid=156 Barr, M 2000, ‘Trade unions in an elitist society: The Singapore story’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 46, no, 4, pp. 480-96. IHLO 2009, Updates to collective bargaining and collective contracts: New laws – same deal? , IHLO, Hong Kong, viewed 28th January 2010, http://www. ihlo. org/LRC/ACFTU/040309. tml ITUC 2009, Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights 2009: China, ITUC, Belgium, viewed 27th January 2010, http://survey09. ituc-csi. org/survey. php? IDContinent=3&IDCountry=CHN&Lang=EN ITUC 2009, Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights 2009: Singapore, ITUC, Belgium, viewed 27th January 2010, http://survey09. ituc-csi. org/survey. php? IDContinent=3&IDCountry=SGP&Lang=EN Leggett, C 2008, ‘Trade Unions in Singapore: Corporatist Paternalism’, in Benson J & Zhu Y (eds), Trade Unions in Asia, Routledge, London
Ng, SK & Warner, M 1998, China’s Trade Unions and Management, Macmillan Press Ltd, Great Britain NTUC 2009, Organisation Chart, NTUC, Singapore, viewed 31st January 2010, http://www. ntuc. org. sg/organisation_chart. asp Tan, C H 2007, Employment Relations In Singapore, Prentice Hall, Singapore Taylor, B & Li, Q 2007, ‘Is the ACFTU a union and does it matter? ’, Journal of Industrial Relations, vol. 49, no. 5, pp. 701-15. Warner, M 2008, ‘Trade Unions in China: In search of a new role in the ‘harmonious’ society’, in Benson J & Zhu Y (eds), Trade Unions in Asia, Routledge, London