One of the key functions of ACFTU is to assist the government in the suppression of labour organizing in collaboration among all relevant official bodies to prevent outbreaks of mass actions (China Labour Bulletin, 2017). Also, the ACFTU is required to represent the interests of workers and protect their legal rights and monitor the working units (dian wei) if they were abiding by labour regulations (Trade Union Law, 1950).
3.2 Challenges and Issues Faced
The ACFTU is currently under severe pressure, namely financial capacity, legitimacy amongst workers and its ability to adapt to the different labour relationships of the socialist market economy. These challenges grew exponentially when there is a decline of state-owned enterprise (SOEs) and the rise of the private sector where unions can no longer function as a transmission belt between the party and workers (Traub-Merz, 2011).
The NTUC and ACFTU are similar in several ways. Both trade unions have the similar tripartite system, government intervention and are guided by a team of elites.
4.1 Tripartite System
In Singapore, the tripartite partners are the MOM, NTUC and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). Employees will be represented by NTUC, employers will be represented by SNEF and government will be represented MOM (MOM, 2017). SNEF is a trade union of employers dedicated to preserving industrial harmony and helping employers achieve excellence in employment practices (MOM, 2017). On the other hand, MOM helps in formulating and implementing labour policies related to the workforce in Singapore (MOM, 2017).
Correspondingly, in China, workers are represented by ACFTU, with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at its helm (Warner, 2008). Whereas entrepreneurs in China are represented by the China Enterprise Directors Association (CEDA) and the Ministry of Labour acts as the frontman for China (Benson, 2008). CEDA functions as a bridge between the government, organisers and businessmen (CEDA, 2017).
4.2 Government Intervention
Both NTUC and ACFTU has government policies and legislation that has the capability to suppress and tolerate unionism. As argued by Tan and Chew (1997), the trade unions can assume is one in which they are independent of the government, yet have the freedom to choose to work in close partnership when they wish to. However, till now, there is not one trade union in the world that is free from the influence of the government.
NTUC and ACFTU have close ties with MOM and CCP respectively. The NTUC acts as the government’s representative to the workers. Similarly, ACFTU is seen as “part of the party-state that represents the will of the leadership rather than the aspirations of the masses” (Taylor and Li, 2007). This suggests that trade unions in both Singapore and China have government intervention in their operations.
4.3 Elite Group
Both countries’ federation of trade union made up of elite leaders. In Singapore, the government believed that ‘the non-elite cannot be relied upon to represent themselves competently’ (Barr, 2000). Thus, the president of NTUC, Ms Mary Liew Kiah Eng, is also the General Secretary of the Singapore Maritime Officers’ Union (SMOU) (NTUC, 2017). Similarly, in China, the government appoints the senior officials of the ACFTU. Likewise, the chairman of ACFTU, Mr Li Jianguo, is also the member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the 12 National People’s Congress (ACFTU, 2017).
In gist, both countries’ union leaders are being elected by the government which does not fulfil the criteria of workers in the trade to protect their rights and interest (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). Personally, if the groups are to be formed by elite members, the leaders might side the government and neglect the fact that they are supposed to improve the workers’ quality of life.
Though both countries have many similarities, they are different in several aspects too. The differences between NTUC and ACFTU include political ideology, collective bargaining and going on strikes.
5.1 Political Ideology
According to Freedom House (2012), Singapore is a democratic nation where is governed by a parliamentary system, and elections are free from irregularities and vote rigging, but the ruling PAP dominates the political process. With reference to Singapore’s pledge, “to build a democratic society based on justice and equality,” Singapore has been practising democracy which favours equal rights and freedom of speech (Corporation, 2005).
On the contrary, China is a socialist country who was once a communist country with their ”iron rice bowl’ cradle-to-grave employment system and relatively egalitarian wage system (Benson, 2008). The difference between socialism and communism is that in communism, everyone is equal and the country distributes what it produces based only on need (I, 2016). Whereas in socialism, class distinctions are diminished and people are the nominal agent of change (Diffen, 2017).
5.2 Collective Bargaining
Collective bargaining is the process of negotiation between the employers/management and the employees (Wikipedia, 2017). In Singapore, there is industrial relations act to provide regulation of the relations of employers and employees and prevent or settle of trade disputes by collective bargaining, conciliation, arbitration and tripartite mediation of individual disputes (MOM, 2017). On the other hand, ACFTU has not pursued any collective bargaining and in fact, it is often being left out of the process of protecting workers’ right. Workers in China has little say in the policies and have a lack of choices which angered many workers. (Taylor & Li 2007).
As it is illegal to go on strike in Singapore, the virtue of the Industrial Relations Ordinance in 1960 has come out with industrial arbitration court (Studylib, 2017). It is an alternative to striking and is more conciliatory than it is adversarial. Parties in such a court have better chance to carry on a working relationship rather than one that has experienced strike action (NTUC, 2015). However, in China, there have been several numbers of strikes and demonstration going on the street to express the workers’ unsatisfactory. An example will be the Honda workers strike in 2010 where workers demand higher wages as their wages are below the minimum wages model and ACFTU failed to protect their legal rights. Because the law of Singapore forbids people to go on strikes, it differentiates NTUC from ACFTU.
To conclude, although NTUC and ACFTU have quite a number of similarities in the Federation of the trade union, there are certain factors that distinguish NTUC from ACFTU. Regardless which, I believe both trade unions are putting equal effort to maintain the peace between government, employers and employees while continuing to improve their country’s productivity.