Singapore Trades Union Congress


When the Emergency was proclaimed in 1948, the communist Singapore Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU) went underground. The Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC), with the blessings of the colonial government, was formed in 1951 as a federation of trade unions to replace the SFTU. However, the STUC was not long-lived because of political rivalry, and was dissolved in 1961 resulting in the formation of two opposing federations of trade unions, the Singapore Association of Trade Unions and National Trades Union Congress.

In June 1948, a state of emergency was proclaimed in Singapore following outbreaks of lawlessness and acts of violence instigated by irresponsible trade unions. Following this and the colonial government's wish to establish responsible trade unions, there were unsuccessful attempts to form a trade union congress in May 1949 and September 1950. In 1951, there were calls for the abolishment of the prohibition of affiliation of unions of government employees to unions of non-government employees. This led to the amendment of Gazette Notification No. S 88 of 1947 allowing government employees' unions to act in conjunction with non-government employees' unions.  The change paved the way for the founding of the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC) by V. K. Nair and Lim Yew Hock in May 1951.  When the STUC was officially established on June 13, it received full support from the government. It held its inaugural congress in September. Subsequently, it became affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). By end 1951, STUC had 28 of the 107 unions, with a combined membership of 24,098, under its umbrella.

Despite its small membership, STUC was able to garner enough support to secure an election victory for the Labour Front Party in 1955.  In the same year, it entered into secret discussions with the left-wing Singapore General Employees' Union to form a united trade union front.  As a result, STUC became the largest conglomerate of unions on the island. 

The People's Action Party (PAP) came into power in 1959. The new Government amended the Trade Unions Ordinance to empower the Registrar to deregister or to reject the registration of unions. Consequently, many splinter trade unions were deregistered. Amalgamation and federation of similar unions followed. This resulted in more unified and stronger trade unions

In July 1961, the leftists in the PAP broke away to form Barisan Sosialis.  The division of the PAP resulted in a split in the leadership of  STUC.  On July 25, STUC was dissolved by the Minister for Labour and Law at the request of its secretary-general G. Kandasamy.  This led to the formation of two federations of trade unions. The leftist leaders formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU), and applied for registration with the government on August 16.  The pro-Barisan SATU was led by Lim Chin Siong.  The moderate leaders formed the pro-PAP National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and applied for registration on August 17.  It was led by Che' Awang and Devan Nair

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia


Balakrishna, V. R. (1976). A brief history of the Singapore trade union movement (pp. 3-6). Singapore: National Trades Union Congress.
(Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 BAL)

Chew, S. B. (1991). 
Trade unionism in Singapore (pp. 31-33).  Singapore: McGraw-Hill.
(Call no.: RSING 331.8095957 CHE)

Lee, T. H. (1996).  The open united front: the communist struggle in Singapore (pp. 62, 206-209).  Singapor: South Seas Society.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE)

Lim - Ng, B. E. (Ed.) (1986).  Chronology of trade union development in Singapore 1940 - 1985 (pp. 3-15).  Singapore: National Trades Union Congress.
(Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 CHR)

Singapore. Labour Dept. (1962). Annual report of the Labour Department 1961 (p. 2) [Microfilm: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept.

Singapore. Labour Dept. (1952). Report of the Singapore Labour Department 1951 (p. 6) [Microfilm: NL 9771]. Singapore: Labour Dept.

Koh, T. (Ed.).
Singapore: the encyclopedia (pp. 481, 502). (2006). Singapore: Didier Millet.
(Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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. 

Organisations>>Trade Unions
Business, finance and industry>>Economics>>Labour economics>>Labour unions
Labor unions--Singapore
Labour and employment
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore

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