The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was formed on 6 September 1961 following a split in the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) that caused a corresponding split in the labour movement under the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC). After the dissolution of the STUC on 25 July, pro-PAP union supporters – led by C. V. Devan Nair and Mahmud Awang – founded the NTUC, while another group of unions who were pro-Barisan Sosialis – the splinter group that broke from the PAP – formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU). In early October, SATU called for a strike to protest against the government's move to deregister seven of its biggest unions. In defiance to this call, many of SATU's affiliates crossed over to join the NTUC. In November 1963, the government rejected SATU's application for registration, which effectively rendered the association illegal.
The NTUC was focused on negotiating collective agreements and fighting cases in the Industrial Arbitration Court. It's first major challenge came in 1968 when the British decided to withdraw its military forces from Singapore in a move that caused much anxiety as about 30,000 jobs were at stake. During the government negotiations over the future of the British military bases, the NTUC was optimistic that if Singapore were given the bases, the government could turn them to the country's economic advantage and help its people weather the feared economic disaster resulting from the military pull-out. Between 1967 and 1968, in a bid to stimulate the economy and attract foreign investment, the government revamped the industrial relations and employment legislations. The various unions, which were initially concerned with the legislative changes as their scope for negotiations were reduced, subsequently gave their endorsement after the government promised that employers would not be allowed to take advantage of workers.
In November 1969, NTUC organised a four-day seminar, Modernisation of the Labour Movement, to reinvigorate the labour movement which was regarded as having entered a state of decay due to falling membership and disenchantment among the rank-and-file. The central principle of tripartism in Singapore's industrial relations was also discussed at the seminar.
In the 1970s, the NTUC formed various co-operatives to keep essential goods and services affordable for union members and Singaporeans. NTUC first established NTUC Income (Insurance Co-operative Commonwealth Enterprise Ltd.) in September 1970 to provide low-income workers with affordable premium insurance coverage. In November the same year, NTUC launched a transport co-operative, COMFORT (Co-operative Commonwealth for Transport Ltd.) (now known as ComfortDelGro), to provide a mini-bus service for schoolchildren and a taxi service for the public. In November 1972, NTUC launched its consumer co-operative, WELCOME, and opened its first co-op supermarket, NTUC Welcome (now known as NTUC FairPrice), in July 1973 in order to combat rampant profiteering by selling essential commodities at low prices.
1.Nathan, S. R., & Auger, T. (2011). An unexpected journey: Path to the presidency (p. 228). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 NAT-[HIS]; Ee, B. L., & Leong, C. (2011). U & me: Fifty years of the labour movement in Singapore (p. 36). Singapore: National Trades Union Congress. Call no.: RSING 331.88095957 EE; 'Role of Unions' - NTUC. (1961, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Govt. says 'no' to Satu bid for federation. (1963, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 4; Sam, J., & Pestana, R. (1963, October 8). SATU calls strike. The Straits Times, p. 1; Chandran, R., Cheah, B. K., & Peries, B. (1963, October 9). 105 firms hit. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Exodus begins: 50 branches quit SATU. (1963, October 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. The Straits Times , 14 Nov 1963, p. 4.
5. Leggett, C. (2008). Trade Unions in Singapore. In J. Benson & Y. Zhu (Eds.), Trade Unions in Asia: An economic and sociological analysis (p. 108). London & New York: Routledge. Call no.: RSING 331.88095 TRA.
6. End of an era. (1971, November 1). The Straits Times, p. 14; Creating jobs: Vital role for HDB. (1968, June 25). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ee, B. L., & Leong, C. (2011). U & Me: Fifty years of the labour movement in Singapore (p. 28). Singapore: National Trade Union Congress. Call no.: RSING English 331.88095957 EE.
7. Where there's a will there's a Singapore way, he says. (1967, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 11; NTUC backs govt in emergency measures. (1968, April 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Vasil, R. (1989). Trade Unions. In Sandhu, K. S. & Wheatley, P. (Eds.), Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore (pp. 154-159). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Call No.: RSING English 959.57 MAN-[HIS]; Jek: Investors don’t come here just to save us from starvation…. (1968, July 13). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Pestana, R. (1968, July 7). Move by NTUC to amend harsh clauses of Jobs Bill. The Straits Times, p. 9; Labour Bill–firms ‘to respond positively’. (1968, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Unions to map out new strategy to check slide. (1969, November 15). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. New NTUC guidelines for a brave new era. (1970, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 6; Dental clinic plan. (1970, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 8; NTUC to set up taxi, mini-bus co-op. (1970, May 25). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. INCOME to start business on Tuesday. (1970, September 11). The Straits Times, p. 7; NTUC to bosses: Start INCOME ‘check off’. (1970, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. The Straits Times, 25 May 1970, p. 5; Tan, W. L. (1971, January 6). Taxi licences for NTUC only? The Straits Times, p. 8; Transport co-op is launched. (1970, November 19). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. NTUC supermarket to be called WELCOME. (1972, November 21). The Straits Times, p. 2; Hundreds will watch the PM open NTUC supermarket. (1973, July 22). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved 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.