As constitutional reforms swept through Singapore from 1955 onwards, trade unions became increasingly politicised. Major political parties, such as the Labour Front and the People’s Action Party (PAP), enjoyed strong support from the trade unions and derived many of their leaders from these unions. Between 1955 and 1959, under limited self-government led by chief ministers David Marshall and then Lim Yew Hock, there were regular strikes driven by specific political purposes. Organised by militant trade unions intimately associated with the PAP, these disruptive strikes were also augmented by youths from the Chinese schools in Singapore.
When the PAP came to power following the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, its leaders sought to introduce a peaceful balance between the demands of workers and the industrialisation needs of the country, fearing that industrial unrests would destabilise the country’s industrialisation programme. One of the solutions proposed was the Industrial Relations Bill to promote industrial relations through the standardisation of collective bargaining, centralise conciliation in the Ministry of Labour, and set up the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) for compulsory arbitration of irresolvable trade disputes. The IAC – its constitutions, powers and functions – dominated the process of the bill.
The Industrial Relations Bill was introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 13 January 1960 and passed on 13 February the following month. However, the Industrial Relations Ordinance was enacted only seven months later on 15 September. The progress of the bill coincided with the rift between the moderate and left-wing factions of the PAP. On 24 October 1960, the IAC was officially opened with Charles Gamba, an Australian economics professor, as its first president. The establishment of the IAC, however, did not stop industrial stoppages, prompting amendments to the ordinance that resulted in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act of 1968.
1. Parmer, N. (1957, March). Trade unions in Malaya. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 310, 147. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from JSTOR.
2. Parmer, Mar 1957, p. 148; Leggett, C. J. (2005). Strategic choice and the transformations of Singapore’s industrial relations [Thesis] (pp. 56, 87–88). Australia: Griffith Business School, Griffiths University. Retrieved December 31, 2013, from Griffiths University website: https://www120.secure.griffith.edu.au/rch/file/a8182e23-5684-7515-429a-e07a8100dd49/1/02Whole.pdf
3. Parmer, Mar 1957, p. 148; Leggett, 2005, p. 104.
4. Leggett, 2005, p. 90.
5. Labour Peace Bill. (1960, January 14). The Straits Times, p. 3; Industrial Relations Bill passed. (1960, February 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Ordinance now becomes law. (1960, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Gamba picked to settle all labour disputes. (1960, September 15). The Straits Times, p. 14; Gamba opens state’s first industrial court under new law. (1960, October 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Republic of Singapore. Government Gazette. Acts Supplement. (1968, August 15). Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, 1968 (No. 22 of 1968, pp. 229–238). Singapore: Government Printing Office. Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SIN.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.