International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations
Volume 26 (2010)
Volume 26 (2010) / Issue 4
Rosalind Chew, Chew Soon-Beng, 'Union Social Responsibility: A Necessary Public Good in a Globalized World' (2010) 26 International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, Issue 4, pp. 435–446
Almost all countries have been adversely affected by the global financial crisis, and almost all countries have resorted to expansionary fiscal policy to boost domestic demand and to contain unemployment. Many countries have also tried to reduce labour costs to contain redundancies. One possible consequence of cutting labour costs is that unions and workers will protest and resist the cost-cutting measures. In addition, labour unions have made demands on their respective governments to reduce the import of goods and foreign workers in order to protect jobs. In the case of Greece, the government is running a huge budget deficit and cannot borrow funds at normal interest rates from the bond markets. The EU insists that Greece should reduce the budget deficit to calm the financial markets. At the same time, Greece is under pressure to reduce fiscal spending during the recession. Since one of the results of cutting public spending is a reduction in benefits for pensioners, public servants, and the public sector, the unions have taken to the streets to protest against the austerity measures. This paper argues that the labour movement should look beyond its self-interest. Labour unions should exhibit union social responsibility (USR) by putting public interest before self-interest. This paper will use the labour movement in Singapore as an example of how a socially responsible labour union can help to save jobs and enable the economy to recover faster. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the Singapore economy registered a 16.4% fall in GDP, but the unemployment rate rose only from 2.5% to 3.3% in the first quarter of 2009. This was to a large extent due to the behaviour of labour unions in Singapore. The theoretical framework for socially responsible labour union action will be presented and examined in the context of the Singapore economy.
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