The concept of tripartism is simple enough. In a nutshell, it’s the co-operation between employers, the Government and unions for the common good. But effectively practising it is easier said than done.
Here in Singapore, three umbrella bodies play a key role in promoting and upholding the spirit of tripartism nationwide. They are the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Working together, Singapore’s tripartite model enables employers to participate in shaping manpower policies that keep Singapore’s labour market flexible.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong describes: “We need a pro-labour and pro-Singaporean Government to protect workers’ interests, to foster growth, to make sure that everyone benefits from prosperity. That is what our tripartite partnership has always been about. We must strengthen the trust and understanding that underpin this relationship.”
How Tripartism Works in Singapore
“The situation that we have – co-operation between unions, employers and Government – did not come about by accident,” said our late Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. “We strived very hard; instead of infighting, we tried and got each party to understand their obligations, their responsibilities to each other.”
Detailing what makes Singapore’s model stand out, Dr Robert Yap, President of Singapore National Employers Federation says: “Tripartite consultations and discussions before a policy is decided mean that employer views are heard and concerns are addressed. These ensure a smooth implementation of policies. In times of economic crisis, employers can also rely on tripartism to help them overcome the difficult periods.”
“Our unions and workers support short-term measures to help companies cut costs to save jobs while the government incentivises companies to upgrade their capabilities to take advantage of business opportunities when the economy recovers,” he adds.
What Lies Ahead
While tripartism has been pivotal to Singapore’s development, the volatile global economy and changes in the profile of our workforce means that maintaining Singapore’s tripartism model successfully is not without its challenges.
Putting this into perspective, Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower says: “The PME segment of our workforce is growing. We should help them progress in their jobs and fulfil their career aspirations. As our population ages, our local workforce will grow slower and might even stagnate. This means that Singapore will continue to face a tight labour market.”
“To overcome these challenges,” he explains, “we need to evolve our approach. This includes bringing sectoral partners into the tripartite fold. MOM, SNEF and NTUC have built a strong tripartite relationship at the national level. In the next phase of tripartism, we need to develop tripartism at the sectoral level to complement national level tripartism.”
Singapore’s model of tripartism has indeed come a long way, but as the late Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had shared: “Tripartism cannot be taken for granted. It is a relationship that must be nurtured, developed and sustained. It is a relationship whose benefits must be seen and understood by both workers and management.”