Tripartism a major policymaking tool in S'pore: Foreign delegates

Tripartism remains a strong fundamental in policymaking in Singapore, said foreign delegates at an international forum on three-way partnerships between governments, unions and employers on Oct 26.
Tripartism remains a strong fundamental in policymaking in Singapore, said foreign delegates at an international forum on three-way partnerships between governments, unions and employers on Oct 26. PHOTO: ST FILE

Tripartism across the world may be in decline, but it remains a strong fundamental in policymaking in Singapore, said foreign delegates at an international forum on three-way partnerships between governments, unions and employers yesterday.

Industrial relations expert Sarosh Kuruvilla of Cornell University called Singapore "a classic example of a place where tripartism is deeply institutionalised".

He cited a 2012 study of eight countries that ranked Singapore and Slovenia highest in tripartite aspects such as scope of policy, number of agreements and strength of representation.

"I haven't seen the kind of commitment from top leadership (they have in Singapore) towards the concept in any other country."

About 800 delegates, including 100 foreign ones from 30 countries, attended the one-day conference organised by the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

International Labour Organisation director-general Guy Ryder called tripartism a "valuable instrument of policymaking".

He said: "Some countries, in trying to defend existing measures of tripartism, have lost it in the process. The need is to adapt and modernise tripartism."

"Singapore is not ready to stand still. I don't know if it is comforting or frightening that as you celebrate SG50, you're already talking about SG100," he added.

Mr Kevin Callinan, vice-president of the executive council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, remarked that if Ireland had had Singapore's scope and depth of tripartism, it might not have been as badly affected as it was by the 2008 financial crisis.

He said: "Although we have 20 years of social partnership agreements, I don't think we extended that scope to deal with the kind of economic matters which would have prepared us for the way the global crisis hit Ireland.

"My sense is that in Singapore, the early warning systems would have picked those difficulties up earlier and there would have been an opportunity for the social partners to respond and deal with them."

Still, Professor Kuruvilla said more needs to be done to make unions here more representative. "There are large numbers of foreign workers, new employers - particularly in the financial sector - and a whole new set of workers who don't work in companies but who would like to be contractors.

"These are people who have little interest in being part of unions. If you want to expand tripartism but the representative organisations are not representing everybody, that's a challenge you need to address," he said.

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2015, with the headline 'Tripartism a major policymaking tool in S'pore: Foreign delegates'. Print Edition | Subscribe