Topic thing that remained unchanged was the county’s


Korea #2

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of collective bargaining process between Singapore and South Korea


1.    What
is Collective Bargaining?

Bargaining is the process of negotiating employment terms and conditions
that takes place between employer or management and a group of employees.

the beginning of the industrial age, the growing organization of workers by
workers was the fear of many an industrialist. This was especially true in the Western
parts of the world where threats to strike were becoming more common and
employers started losing their power over their workers. The growing
syndicalism of worker organization could have reminded the West of the threat
that was the communist ideal, which in industries are controlled by workers and
owned by workers. Fortunately, they were far off the mark. While it is true
that worker unions today have far greater influence than in the past, recent
times have shown us that all it was promote better teamwork between employers
and employees without jeopardising stakeholders or slowing the economy. In
fact, as low-income workers earned more, they bought more goods to address
their daily and future necessities, reintroducing money back into the economy
and growing it even more. Like a rusty bicycle, it moves best when both wheels
are oiled sufficiently. Today, cooperation between employer and employee plays
a vital role in any healthy economy, and collective bargaining is the
cornerstone of that.


2.    Collective
Bargaining in Singapore

started out as a small fishing village turned into first world country with one
of the best economies in the world. Singapore has gone through many changes,
but one thing that remained unchanged was the county’s focus on trade and
cooperation. In Singapore, collective bargaining is a regular process that is
repeated every 2-3 years after an agreement expires. The Singapore Government
is often involved but mostly in indirect ways. While management and unions
negotiate terms, the government acts as a mediator and advisor to both sides,
guiding the situation in a way that jobs get created, economic growth is achieved,
and social stability is maintained. This Cooperative Tripartism has been key to
Singapore’s success. With that said, there are other ground rules, set by the
government to ensure that power scale between employers and employees remains

the Singapore Industrial Relations Act Section 181, there will be no
bargaining about the following terms:

attention to worker’s rights









of association is granted to all workers, ensuring that workers that join
unions cannot be treated any worse than employees are not in unions. This
prevents employers from discriminating against union members, safeguarding
workers right to unionise. Fee-riders become an issue here as a non-union
member still gains the benefit of negotiated improved employment terms without
having to pay their dues or work towards negotiation as a union member would.


Singapore, Trade Unions are often well organized, large and diverse, from large
federations such as National Trade Union Congress, industry level Singapore
Teacher’s Union and enterprise level Singapore Airlines Staff Union. They have
relatively moderate membership and are run democratically with membership being
voluntary. When deciding on taking industrial action or not, Unions can only
take action when a majority vote is reached through anonymous ballots.
Furthermore, before exercising their right to strike they must first seek the
government’s approval, a process that can take up to 30 days. While the
government usually does not outright deny them from taking industrial action,
they do try to persuade unions to negotiate peacefully without disrupting work,
and will persistently do so over many days and multiple attempts. While a few
strikes ended up happening anyway, this tactic of peaceful negotiation and the
shared goals of job creation, economic growth and social stability resulted in
a sharp plummet in Industrial actions taken in Singapore over the years. The
biggest leader of cooperative efforts among unions is Singapore’s largest
union, National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), which greatly favors cooperation
with the government due to its supportive relationship and positive history
with the People’s Action Party (PAP).

3.    Collective
Bargaining in South Korea

Korea is no stranger to change, having gone through many conflicts such as Japanese
Occupation during the Second World War, the Korean War, 2 Militaristic Regimes and
lastly a Democratic reform plagued with corruption cases. With a history
brimming with political unease, it is a wonder how it managed to return as the
4th largest economy in Asia. After a democratic reform in 1987,
there were big changes to its industrial relations scene.

attention to worker’s rights

in government intervention in collective bargaining

in relative power of unions

Independence and control for national centres (e.g. KCTU)

in many unions being enterprise-based to industry-based

of Tripartism as means to determine employment terms and work conditions


reforms in 2017 that were supposed to address the stagnating economy were met
with great opposition from the working class through nation-wide strikes due to
the new policies extending employer flexibility 2. This exemplifies the great
distrust between government and employees, their relationship almost
adversarial in nature. The distrust stems from South Korea’s politically
unrestful history and perceived difference of goals between employer (e.g. better
cost-effectiveness) and employees (e.g. lower working hours). Other countries
are pressuring the South Korean government to implement more flexibility into
its policies so as to address the ever-changing needs of the global market and to
revive South Korea’s stagnating economy.


majority of worker unions in South Korea exist at the enterprise level which
was the same level where most collective bargaining takes place, resulting in
relatively low bargaining coverage of ~10% 3. The two largest union
confederations are the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the Korea
Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), both run democratically and free from heavy
government or employer control. Due to it’s adversarial relationship with the
employers and a distrust towards their government, workers frequently resort to
industrial action, causing disruptions of all sizes (e.g. nation, industry and









4.    Comparative
Analysis of Industrial Relations factors

are many similarities between the elements of Industrial Relations of these two
Asian countries.

ustilise Tripartism to determine employment terms and conditions

sport healthy economies that are of the best in the world

growths during the 2000s have made it easier for both employers and employees
to secure favorable terms

face the need to increase competitiveness to address changing global market

are run democratically and are independent from government or employers

has lead to better working terms and conditions for employees

takes a passive role during the collective bargaining process

endorse policies that protect workers’ rights (e.g. free association)


differences between the Industrial Relations scene of these two countries.

focus on cooperation partnership between employer and employee as opposed to
South Korea’s adversarial relationship and between employer and employees.

government intervention results in alignment of goals between employer and
employee whereas South Korea’s government history of mishandled intervention results
in misalignment of goals between employer and employee

stable political climate as opposed to South Korea’s unstable politics

large-scale industrial actions have been taken in Singapore as of recent years while
large-scale industrial actions still occur in South Korea

bargaining is regularly coordinated and takes place at all levels in Singapore,
but most collective bargaining in South Korea happens irregularly, decentralised
to the enterprise level

economy centers around trade while South Korea’s economy is technology exports

is on peaceful terms with its neighbors, but South Korea is still on hostile
terms with their neighbor North Korea which in recent times has developed
dangerous levels of military and nuclear power, regularly threating their use.


5.    Conclusion

industrial relations system provides the framework for cooperation between
employer and employee and is the cornerstone of any productive economy. The
system is influenced by numerous factors such as

state and type of the local economy

of the political scene

of technology and globalization


distribution between employer and employee

of practices used during the bargaining process

environmental forces

their similarities, the difference between the economy type, political scene,
government practices and social dynamics between Singapore and South Korea make
it hard to make conclusive comparisons between the two. The biggest contributors
to their differences is the type of relationship employers and employees share
(Partnership vs Adversarial) and type of economy (Trade vs Export).

















Final Wordcount is 1420 (excluding



Government of the Republic of Singapore. (2004, January 1). Industrial Relations Act, REVISED
EDITION 2004. Retrieved January 13, 2018, from


2 The Financial Times Limited 2018. (2017,
June 26). South Korea unions ramp up
pressure on Moon over labour reform. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from


3 Sukhwan, C. (2007). ‘Employee Representation
System in South Korea. Decentralizing Industrial Relations and the Role
of Labour Unions and Employee Representatives. AH Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer
Law International, 169-185.