John De Payva, President, National Trades Union Congress
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) celebrates our 50th Anniversary this year. Not many organisations manage to survive for half a century. Far fewer manage to flourish for so long.
When NTUC was founded 50 years ago, the outlook was bleak for us. With the split of the Singapore Trades Union Congress then into NTUC and the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU), NTUC was very much the underdog. The vast majority of the union ground was with pro-communist SATU and not with NTUC. At that point, not many would have dared to predict the survival of NTUC, much less expect us to grow into a strong and progressive labour movement 50 years on.
Yet this is precisely what happened. Today, our progressive approach to work towards win-win outcomes in a constructive tripartite arrangement has gained international recognition. Many union movements around the world have come to realise that our approach is more constructive to furthering the welfare and interests of workers.
How have we been able to achieve all this, against all odds? The key factor is our uniquely Singapore brand of tripartism, one that has proven itself through many trials and downturns. Every downturn, our strong tripartite partnership enabled us to recover swiftly to minimise the pain to workers. This is widely recognised.
What is less well known is that the foundation for tripartism lies in our symbiotic relationship with the People's Action Party (PAP). This symbiotic relationship was born in 1961, when the Barisan Sosialis broke away from PAP and was allied to SATU. NTUC was also founded in that same year, backed by PAP. In fact, many of the founding members of NTUC were PAP members.
Today, this symbiotic relationship celebrates its 50th Anniversary as well. It is an opportune time for us to remember the basis for this symbiotic relationship. The foundation for this symbiotic relationship lies in the common goal that both NTUC and PAP share to better the lives of workers in Singapore through concrete actions, policies and programmes that focus on enhancing the long-term interests of workers.
This symbiotic relationship is a conscious choice and decision on both sides. NTUC recognises that the PAP Government has the welfare of workers at heart, and PAP recognises NTUC as a progressive labour movement that supports sustainable policies to enhance Singapore's competitiveness, which would benefit Singapore workers in the long run. For 50 years, we have affirmed this symbiotic relationship, as it has stood the test of time and many trials together. The most recent was the downturn of 2008/2009 where the PAP Government again acted upon its philosophy of minimising the pain to workers through the massive Resilience Package.
So brothers and sisters, as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary this May Day, let us re-affirm the role of the PAP-NTUC symbiotic relationship in delivering better lives for workers in Singapore.