Wednesday 9 October 2013

The Story of NWC: New book offers peek into wages council's work

Near scrapping of 13th-month bonus at talks among stories revealed
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2013

THE 13th-month bonus that workers have taken for granted would have been scrapped had foreign firms had their way.

Foreign business groups once lobbied to remove the bonus, commonly called the annual wage supplement, during the annual National Wages Council (NWC) wage talks between 2003 and 2005. But unionists resisted the move and the idea was dropped.

The discussion is one of several stories revealed in a coffee-table book released yesterday.

The Story Of NWC - 40 Years Of Tripartite Commitment And Partnership provides a rare glimpse behind the closed doors of NWC negotiations.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times that the book, which records the council's work from 1972 to last year, was published to record how the three-way partnership among businesses, unions and the Government "brought about economic growth and social progress in Singapore".

"The book also aims to help Singaporeans better understand the work of the NWC, and the roles played by the tripartite partners in tackling key employment and industrial relations issues and national crises," the MOM added.

In the 203-page volume, former NWC chairman Lim Chong Yah recounted how he was picked by the Government to set up the council in 1972. "I was not given any brief on what to do, except that the NWC would be about wages and wage-related matters," he said in the book.

He was credited for setting the tone in which the council continues to operate today, including a gag order that prevents its members from revealing council discussions to the public and media.

The professor headed the NWC for 29 years, before passing the baton to the current chairman, Professor Lim Pin, in 2001.

The book also sheds some light on how the council came to its recommendation of a pay hike of at least $50 for low-wage workers last year, breaking a 27-year spell where it did not set a minimum pay increase. The National Trades Union Congress had asked for $70 to $75, while employers proposed $35, so the council settled for $50. "We decided on a quantum that is sustainable," said Prof Lim Pin.

Besides featuring the two professors, the book also carries interviews with unionists and officials, including the former minister for labour and later manpower, Dr Lee Boon Yang.

The 11-chapter book was put together by a team of NTUC, Singapore National Employers Federation and MOM officials over a one-year period. It is available free to the public. Details on getting it are on the MOM website.

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