The Singapore Labour Foundation (SLF) was formed on 12 December 1977 as a statutory board to promote the welfare of union members and their families, and to advance the development of trade unions in Singapore. The SLF provides financial support for the various educational, social, cultural and recreational activities and programmes organised by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and its affiliated unions and co-operatives. The foundation also extends help to lower-income union members, and provides club and resort facilities to meet the recreational and social needs of its members.
Since the modernisation of the trade union movement in 1969, unions in Singapore have expanded beyond their established roles of collective bargaining on wages and benefits to include the social, educational and economic welfare of workers. These changes are reflected in the establishment of trade union co-operatives, which provide goods and services in retail (supermarkets, bookshops, home furnishings), life insurance, dental care and transportation. Examples of such co-operatives include COMFORT (Co-operative Commonwealth for Transport Ltd., now known as ComfortDelGro) and INCOME (Insurance Co-operative Commonwealth Enterprise Ltd.), both launched in 1970, and WECOME (now known as NTUC FairPrice) formed in 1972.
As the number of co-operatives increased, NTUC recommended the setting up of a labour foundation in 1976 to further develop and facilitate the social programmes of the various trade union bodies. The establishment of a single body would enable more comprehensive and beneficial programmes to be organised nationwide for union members. Trade unions that operate in silos would not be as effective due to the lack of resources. The proposed coordinating body would also help to distribute the funds and contributions collected from union subscriptions and co-operative societies to finance the programmes of the NTUC and its affiliated unions.
The proposal to set up a labour foundation was endorsed by the government. On 29 June 1977, then Minister of State for Labour Sia Kah Hui introduced the Singapore Labour Foundation Bill in parliament. Ong Pang Boon, who was then Minister for Labour, presented and defended the bill during its second reading on 2 September. The bill was read for the third time and passed on the same day. The Singapore Labour Foundation Act came into effect on 12 December that same year.
The SLF helped to improve the welfare of union members and to advance the development of the trade union movement in Singapore. In addition to funding the programmes of the NTUC and its affiliates, the foundation was also in-charge of awarding bursaries, scholarships and fellowships to children of union members, persons undergoing training relevant to trade unions, and persons selected by the NTUC for tertiary education. It was also responsible for awarding grants for research on trade unions as well as grants for charitable and educational causes that supported the trade union movement. In order to offer greater help and assistance to incapacitated and injured workers, the foundation was tasked to establish and maintain industrial rehabilitation centres. The foundation also helped to construct and maintain premises for use by trade unions and co-operative societies.
The first board of directors of the foundation comprised seven members – three who were appointed by the minister for labour on the advice of the NTUC, two who were appointed by the minister and two others who were elected at the annual general meeting of the foundation. The directors would serve a three-year term that may be renewed. C. V. Devan Nair, who was then the secretary-general of the NTUC, was elected the first chairman of the Singapore Labour Foundation.
1. Republic of Singapore. Government Gazette. Acts Supplement (1977, September 30). The Singapore Labour Foundation Act, 1977 (Act 9 of 1977, pp. 39–49). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGAS; Republic of Singapore. Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement. (1977, December 9). The Singapore Labour Foundation Act (Commencement) Notification 1977 (S301/1977, p. 702). Call no.: RSING 348.5957 SGGSLS.
2. Singapore Labour Foundation. (2013). About Us. Retrieved November 28, 2013 from Singapore Labour Foundation website: http://www.slf.gov.sg/About-Us/index.htm
3. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1977, September 2). Second Reading of the Singapore Labour Foundation Bill (Vol. 37, cols. 112–113, 115). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
4. Transport co-op is launched. (1970, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 2; INCOME to start business on Tuesday. (1970, September 11). The Straits Times, p. 7; NTUC supermarket to be called WELCOME. (1972, November 21). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 2 Sep 1977, Second Reading, Vol. 37, cols. 116, 120
6. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 2 Sep 1977, Second Reading, Vol. 37, col. 120.
7. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report. (1977, June 29). First Reading of the Singapore Labour Foundation Bill (Vol. 37, col. 64). Singapore: Singapore National Printers. Call no.: RSING 328.5957 SIN.
8. Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 2 Sep 1977, Second Reading, Vol. 37, cols. 112–122.
9. Government Gazette. Subsidiary Legislation Supplement, 9 Dec 1977, S301/1977, p. 702.
10. Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 30 Sep 1977, Act 9 of 1977, pp. 42-43.
11. Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 30 Sep1977, Act 9 of 1977, p. 45.
12. Devan is Labour Foundation head. (1978, January 18). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved November 28, 2013, from NewspaperSG.
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.