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Which Theory, or Theories of Industrial Conflict, If Any, Can Explain the State of Industrial Conflict in Singapore. Justify Your Answer.

Autor:   •  April 19, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  1,569 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,456 Views

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Industrial conflict refers to all expressions of dissatisfaction within the employment relations system, especially those pertaining to the terms and conditions within the employment contract. An industrial conflict is defined as a withdrawal of labour by a group of employees, or a refusal by an employer to allow workers to work. The industrial relations system in Singapore has often been described as a tripartite system with the government playing the key coordinating/ balancing role in labour- management relations (Rowley and Benson, 2000). In Singapore industrial relations, systems tend to be more pluralistic in nature. In reviewing Petzall theories on industrial conflict, these are the three theories that are closest to Singapore industrial conflict.

Industrial conflict can be classified in different groups such as overt, covert, individual, collective, proactive and defensive. Examples of Overt Action can include lockouts, strikes, bans, work-to-rule and transfers. Covert Action includes absenteeism, sabotage, turnover rates and exclusion from decision making. It also includes different perspective of conflict such as pluralistic and unitary. Organization that perceives with unitary perspective reckons that with successful management policies, the workplace will be characterised by harmony and conflict is perceived as disruptive. Some key forms of conflict used by unitary approach are absenteeism and labour turnover. On the other hand, pluralist view suggests that conflict should be resolved by the government and independent through the industrial tribunals.

As industrial conflict is classified into different groups, industrial disputes belong to overt action and it is an organised conflict. Overt action is highly visible, direct and aimed at gaining maximum awareness. It is usually collective in nature and it involves groups of employees or trade unions. Industrial disputes occur when there's a difference of view between management and workers on the terms of employment. The management and the workmen try to pressurize each other when an industrial dispute occurs. This may cause the management resort to lockouts and workers resort to strikes. However, strikes are the most common form of expressing industrial conflict.

Looking at the theories regarding strikes as a product of industrialisation, Ross and Hartman's (1960) theory is the one of the important theories. It states that industrial relations system is influence by the pattern of strikes in any given country. Besides, it identified four different "patterns" of industrial nations and were categorised according to geographical regions. The main points of this theory did apply to Singapore but it did not belong to the third pattern which is the "Mediterranean/Asian" as describe in the theory. In the theory, it was mention that trade unions were poorly patronized and had unstable memberships (Petzall, Abbott and Timo, 2007).

However in the case of Singapore, National Trade Unions Congress (NTUC) which is the sole national trade union in Singapore has served 335 cases in 2010 and they had 540,169 members at June of 2009 ( This is consistent with the pluralistic view that conflicts should be addressed by industrial tribunals, and in our case, through NTUC. These figures are able to prove that Singapore trade unions were not poorly patronized and did not have unstable memberships. Moreover, the NUTC was created in 1960s and it is said that after 1978 there has been no strikes except for a two day action in 1986 (Routledge, 2002). The following statistic is able to support the above statement that in the recent years, according to Ministry of Manpower, industrial disputes was nil from year 1977 to 2010. (MOM....)

The result of this statistic could be the great control over organized labour (an organized but not a militant force) has been possible by a dramatic tightening of labour legislation in Singapore, which made it extremely difficult to organize a strike (Le Blanc, 2008, p. 82). The Trade Unions Act as well as the Industrial Relations Act ensures that trade unions are complying with state interest. Also, industrial relations are controlled by the National Employers' Federation in Singapore. Evidently, there is a political underpinning of non-organization of strikes in Singapore. As industrialisation advances, labour movements shift from being industrial to a more political action as governments increasingly intervene in the economy and take a hand in the industrial relations system (Ross and Hartman, 1960). Singapore, being a newly industrialising country, has its labour laws as the basis of the employment relationship. Thus, Ross and Hartman's theory does explain the state of industrial conflict in Singapore, or lack thereof, even thou Singapore does not fall into their four 'broad patterns'.

In another theory of strikes as a product of political factors, Korpi and Shalev (1979) conclude that countries that have lower levels of strike activity are only possible when labour movements have acquired political power. In addition for this to happen, political power of the labour movement had to be secure


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