State of Industrial Conflict in Singapore – theoretical review

Pluralist theory highlights that managing conflicts effectively can lead to cooperation between the parties in dispute creating an effective conflict resolution mechanisms that address the causes of the conflict instead of blaming each other. It provides that by looking at the broader perspective of the conflict, the parties involved can compromise and collaborate to create remedies to the causes of the conflict and adopt strategies that equally benefit all. Accordingly, the Singaporean government realized the importance of harmonious labour relations and industrial order and established industrial laws to improve such relationships. For instance, an arbitration court was set up to handle and settle industrial disputes (Sarosh &Erickson 20). After the government realized this, the number of strikes and demonstrations fell drastically. The measures led to increased trade and commerce, and improvement of the living standards of the inhabitants. Relationships between employers and the employees improved and the number of strikes decreased. There was a sharp decline in overt collective industrial actions; the rates of overt industrial conflicts declined from 4.4 per cent to virtually zero in the period from 1972 to 1980 (Anis & Islam 162). Currently, Singapore witnesses virtually no strikes and overt collective industrial actions saving many hours that would otherwise have gone to waste during such conflicts (Sarosh &Erickson 21). The government has evaluated the wages and employment conditions of the workers and reviewed the wage structure taking into consideration the huge disparity between the skilled and unskilled workers. By so doing, it has succeeded in crushing labour discontent. All this was possible through the proactive operations of the government, the employers and employees, with their cooperation evident in the implementation of laws and regulations that fostered better relations between employers and employees. For example, trade union laws prohibit foreigners to hold any position in the union thus eliminating the perception of unions as employer tools to suppress the interests of the employees. In addition, a union can only go on a strike if the majority of the members voted to favour of such an action. The purpose of such an arrangement is to prevent union leaders from using their authority to disturb existing industrial relationships and social harmony, unnecessarily.

The Singaporean system of industrial relations is a standard of a pluralist approach to industrial partnership. It features a social contract binding the state, employers and labour unions, notwithstanding their divergent interests in an industrialized economy. This approach seems to have successfully stabilized Singapore’s industrial relations offering a collaborative tripartite model of joint regulation, which promises to inspire other economies. Thus, a second advantage of the pluralist approach is that it can achieve stability in industrial relations resulting in a period of prolonged economic growth. Although frequently criticized for being overtly authoritarian, the Singaporean government can boast of the high level of consensus between parties at work, as well as a body of labour legislation that appears to sustain the nation’s industrial harmony. Evidently, such a system of engineering consensus in the work place appeals to the national elite of other economies for its apparent efficacy in containing industrial conflict and dissent and, by extension, supporting the ethos and activities of industrial development. Although critics of Singapore’s pluralist approach have argued that its institutions regulating conflicts have not been conducive to their authentic expression, the Singaporean situation has been immune to major upheavals since the country attained its independence (Sarosh &Erickson 21).

Nonetheless, Singapore’s strategic success in averting overt collective industrial actions does not weed our individualistic and covert actions. The problem with the pluralist approach is that whereas it decreases the overt, collective industrial actions, there is likelihood of increase of covert, individual actions. The effect of such covert actions on the labour and economy of the country is hard to measure. This arises since the effect of many of such covert actions may not be evident immediately, but could arise in aspects such as failure to meet timelines in future. Even when such a future outcome is determinable, the causes of aspects such as inefficiency and low productivity may be hard to point to the covert actions. By failing to identify such covert actions early enough, the pluralist approach fails to present solutions that could avert progression of such actions to detrimental levels. Accumulation of covert actions could lead to failure of entities due to aspects such as low productivity thus having adverse effects to the economy.

In conclusion, the industrial relations in Singapore since the reforms instituted soon after independence lean towards pluralistic approach. There embodied conflict resolution mechanisms where unions are key participants. Collective bargaining coupled to concession amongst the worker’s unions and the employers are invigorated to address any industrial conflicts. Singapore’s system is tripartite in almost all levels including labour boards as well as strategies and guidelines that address industrial relations. All commissions, boards and authorities dealing with labour matters draw their members from at least three key stakeholders; the government, the union congress and employers federation in order to ensure that any courses of action, rules and commendations passed by these authorities are fair and are considerate of the divergent views of these stakeholders. The advantage of such a system is that it can avoid overt conflict actions thus resulting in a period of prolonged stability that favours economic growth. However, such an approach fails to deal with covert actions whose cumulative effect affects entities’ outcomes adversely.

Works Cited

Anis, Chowdhury and Islam, Iyanatul. The Newly Industrializing Economies of East Asia. London: Routledge Publishers, 2005. Print.

Sarosh, Kuruvilla and Erickson, Christopher. Change and Transformation in Asian Industrial Relations. Industrial Relations. Volume 41, No 2, 171-228, 2002. Web.

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