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Wednesday January 23rd 2019

Our toothless consumers and workers rights groups – CASE and TAFEP

When ComfortDelgro decided to raise its flag-up fare recently, I knew that it would be a done deal.

All along, consumers have nowhere to take their fight to and the enraged population could only vent their frustration online calling for commuters to boycott the taxi giant.

Other taxi operators are taking the cue from their big brother Comfort and will rise their fares soon. Singaporeans are left sucking their thumbs in disgust – again.


Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) –  led incidentally by a PAP MP Mr Yeo Guat Kwang – is probably one of the most toothless consumers  rights association in the world.

Besides mumbling out harmless rhetoria, CASE could not do much to challenge our transport giants let alone lead a campaign to side our consumers.

It needs to have more bite than bark and is unfortunately also not given much power to enforce it’s jurisdiction on errant companies out to profiteer from our innocent consumers.

Incidentally, CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon has this to say of the fare increase: “The fare increase in our view is quite hefty. I suppose if they say it is supply and demand, they should then reveal the findings they have so that the public is aware of the rationale for such adjustment.” (Channel News Asia 6 Dec)

Increasing cab fare came at a wrong time?

Transport cost has been one of the major item that hit our inflation list this year and the current cab fare increase will ensure that the lower to mid level middle income population will again chiefly suffer from the effect.

Transport cost rose by 11.5% in July with housing cost a close second at 9.9%. The current overall inflation stood at 5.5% and does not look like going down anytime soon.

Those who take cabs are probably also mid-ranged earners who could not afford their own private vehicles and increasing fares at a time when the global financial crisis may hit us anytime soon may prove to be ill-timed.

Personally, I don’t take cabs except when I have to bring my stroke-striken mum out for lunch. I stick to taking MRT religiously as I could never afford already-expensive cab drives before the fare increase.

I may just have to reduce our mother-son lunch outings if I could not afford such expensive cab drives in the near future.

Moreover, our lower to middle income group has already suffered from stagnanted wage increase all this while and they also do not qualify for any government welfare hand-out due to their not-so-low income.

Increasing cab fare cost during this festive season also smells of indiscriminate profiteering as shoppers tend to take cabs with their shopping bags and late night outings. Cabs drivers have known to earn almost double during the festive season compared to other normal months.

In fact, increasing cab fare during this period may cause many to tighten up their belt and take to travelling on public transport or worse – reduce their shopping spree to the detriment of the overall economy.

Analysts have voiced out how the cab companies could have also collectively gang up to enforce fare increase and more worrying – there is nothing much our consumer rights body could do about it.

More significantly, the cab fare increase could prove to be a test case for the consumer rights group as companies may now band together and increase prices collectively in future.

CASE. for the record. also seldom comes out of their mild-voiced shadow to firmly advocate for the rights of consumers and rarely gather frustrated consumers to fight for a common cause even though they are being taken for a ride – probably to keep the compliant nature of our country in place.

I saw the same thing happened when investors lost heavily in the toxic Lehman minibonds four years ago.

Besides issuing the usual rhetoria statement, it did not try at all to take up the issue for investors – some who were innocently fleeced by errant relationship managers working in our local banks.

Even when the compensation packages issued were seen to be short-changed, they maintained their non-confrontational stance causing some to question whether the association was acting in tandem with the banks and authorities.

Out step Mr Tan Kin Lian who held regular weekly arbitration sessions at Speakers’ Corner attracting a few hundreds distraught investors, who were clinging on to any hope from anyone who is fighting for their cause.

He not only provides hope to the distraught investors but more significantly a voice for the whole group to bring up their cause to the authorities.

The government has indeed short-changed the whole population if it tries to curtail collective dissenting voice from rising up. It’s like a tight lip that is may be bubbling over anytime soon.

This not only causes people to be fed up with the dismal system and many may now even lay all the blame on the government for anything that goes awry in the country.

The government has gone very paranoid in totally curbing any ground dissent and it is unsure how long the fed-up population is able to contain it’s frustration.

Tripartite – worst form of workers’ union movement in the world?

Tripartite – probably the worst form of workers’ union movement in the world – has caused more harm than good in Singapore.

Long championed by the government for being the best workers’ movement in the world, the tripartite association has monopolised all forms of workers’ rights and reduced these basic employees’ rights to non-existence.

Sensing that the government is on their side, employers exercised all forms of discriminating terms in the employment contract and many executives have nowhere to turn their grievances to when they are being unfairly treated at the work place.

Even the Ministry of Manpower’s arbitration department is only available to workers earning less than $1800 a month- denying a large percentage of the working population of their basic  arbitration rights.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) is also another toothless government-linked association that has Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, the State Minister for Ministry of Manpower, Mr Stephen Lee, President, Singapore National Employers Federation and Mr John de Payva, President of NTUC as its’ advisors.

I have written to the Ministry of Manpower to inform them of one discriminating advertisement issued by Jobstreet – incidentally an online advertiser that regularly flout advertising rules.

Their reply is both shocking and lame:-

Dear Gilbert

We refer to your email below which has been forwarded to TAFEP by MOM.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) is set up by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the Singapore National Employers’ Federation (SNEF) and the Unions (NTUC) to promote the adoption of fair and responsible employment practices. This includes hiring based on skills and abilities, and not on criteria such as age, race, gender, religion, family status or disability.

We have contacted the job advertiser. They are open to all candidates and had specified in the job advertisement that applicants should be Singaporean citizens or hold relevant residence status. We also note that the advertisement is an expired posting which the advertiser will not be able to amend.

For future feedback, you can email us on

Thank you.


Terri Lei (Ms)

Senior Manager

Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices

It is as if the Fair Employment enterprise  is trying to explain away why the errant online advertiser has faulted and there is no punitive measure  in place to check repeat offenders. Jobstreet has at least ten discriminating advertisements at any one time when you randomly flip through the job website that it is both shameful and frustrating to watch.

Toothless consumer and worker rights group

There is currently no penalty for discriminating advertisements or company’s malpractices – they are merely issued written warning and repeat offenders are not being seriously deal with.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, CASE President

In Australia, I remembered the consumer giant Harvey Norman been fined A$1.25 million this month for a misleading advertising campaign by consumer watchdog Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – their equivalent to our CASE.

In September 2010, the retailer promoted the sale of 3D televisions in a catalogue that was widely distributed throughout the country.

The Federal Court said the catalogues created the ”misleading and deceptive” impression that consumers in all places where the catalogue was distributed could buy and use a 3D television to watch the 2010 AFL and NRL grand finals in 3D format.

However, the 3D broadcast was limited to Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth (The Age, 9 Dec).

Read more:

Not only is the Australian consumer association acted independently from the government but they have acted in the total interest of the consumers.

On the contrary, our CASE or TAFEP are both seen as too closely linked to the government and are suspected to uphold any hidden political agenda from the way it handles any consumer dissatisfaction – especially if it involves adverse repercussion on our business environment.

Its pro-employer stance also has to change in order for the body to be more representative of the workers’’ rights.

We also lack an independent Ombudsman institution that is apolitical and only acts for the sole interests of workers. Currently, most employees need to go to our Ministry of Manpower to file a complaint against errant employers and those that earn above $1800 need to seek their own legal advice.

Moreover, many analysys have blamed the current imbalanced foreign-worker influx to the lame rights our unions have over employment regulations. In fact, our unions – besides the powerful Pilots’ Association – carries little weight and are mostly toothless and ineffective when it comes to enforcing the rights of it’s workers.

Thus, many foreign department heads have fearlessly gone all the way to bring in their own people – advertently forcing many of our own local workers out of employment. There is no one who dares to intervene here if the tripartite movement keeps mum about such indiscriminate hiring

Distraught workers have nowhere to turn their grievances to as most of our executives earn more than the maximum $1800 salary for arbitration cases that MOM will attend to.

Most would not also seek legal recourse as it not only involves a large sum of money but more significantly there is hardly any chance of them winning their cases over the employers.

So far, I have not heard of a court case that involved a local worker bringing any errant employer to task. That is probably a pathetic statistic that only the government can laud about.

Many workers also have this sick feeling that they are being treated like digits in a well-oiled economy that is lacking in human and work place rights.

The fact that workers currently above the age of 50 years old having their employer CPF contribute reduced also spoke volume of how the country treats its’ aged workers.

The tripartite movement – long championed by the government for being the best union movement in the world – is sadly another piece of propaganda which promotes the rights of the employers and negate any basic rights available to the workers.

Working in close association with the government, the trade union movement – led by a government minister Mr Lim Swee Say, promotes close governmental liaison with the employer association (SNEF).

Having an influential government minister in its’ helm not only negate any workers’ rights the unions have but also allows the government to promite its own brand of poliitcal progaganda within the tripartite movement.

Long seen to be very pro-business in its approach, the government is seen to be using the ontrolling tool of the movement to lure multi national companies and large corporations to invest in our country.

Lauded as a country that has no strikes and almost little dissent in its’ workforce, Singapore is being promoted as a place for any corporation to come and make money out of our superb infrastructure and open global economy – at the expensve of a vulnerable work force with little employee protection from the authorities.


As Singapore prepares for a serious economic down turn next year, all eyes will be on how employers will retain it’s work force.

Will they keep foreign workers on its’ payroll and get rid of our local worker who are known to be more fussy and feisty about workplace environment?

Will the government also tighten its’ teeth on errant employers who have allow their human resource departments to easily hire foreign workers on its’ payroll?

Already, people are talking about how the next general election will pan out in 2016 if the government is seen to be  too lenient on how it handles the current foreign worker issue - make worse by  a toothless workers rights association in place.

Analysts are also worried how disgusted Singaporeans may not be able to keep their pent-up frustration to themselves anymore and start their first-ever illegal protest – in defiance of the authorities.

All is not well in our country now…

Written by: Gilbert Goh

Number of View: 5163

Reader Feedback

9 Responses to “Our toothless consumers and workers rights groups – CASE and TAFEP”

  1. abc says:

    I can feel your frustrations Gilbert.

    Regarding the taxi fares increase, SMRT has just announced similar steps. Don’t be surprise by mid-Jan all taxi companies will have increased their fares as well. Just in time for CNY shopping. It’s a pretty obvious 1st step towards the taxi companies increasing their taxi rentals. That’s why ComfortDelgro stocks jumped when the company made the fare announcement. Investors and analysts already factored this in, even though the taxi rentals may only increase after CNY. Taxi drivers will be in for a rude shock.

    If SG was as pro-citizen and mentally developed as the more developed countries, both CASE and TAFEP would have already sued and won against countless companies over the years for predatory and discriminatory practices.

    Unfortunately SG is socially and mentally retarded. Whether the legal system here can be counted upon is also another question mark, especially if involving large companies hiring big name corporate litigation lawyers. Even if CASE or TAFEP suddenly grow some cojones and dragged some errant companies to court, it is likely that most of the cases will be dismissed with costs.

    In terms of PMEs here successfully suing against their companies for employment issues, I can only think of 2 cases in recent years. But both PMEs are foreigners and working in finance industry. I.e. both are super-high-income and probably have tons of spare cash available, and their employers are large foreign banks in SG. I remember one of the PME quit on his first day in SG, and he successfully sued the bank to compensate him for 1 month’s salary from his previous job, 1 month’s salary for his new job, plus all airfares and relocation costs for him to come to SG.

    You’re right that authorities and govt agencies have been getting more sensitive and paranoid about criticisms. If you’ve not noticed, even Today Online removed their previously anonymous comments forum system on 12 Dec 2011, and now uses a Facebook plugin. From some recent high-profile cases, Facebook has been rather pliable with SG authorities in facilitating identification of users. I think the increasingly critical comments on Today Online have been upsetting a few important people or companies. Well, as is commonly said, Truth hurts. And some people just can’t handle the truth.

  2. Stevenado says:

    All words metioned that pric adjustment is meant for drivers better income are just bullshit.Just reduce the rental by 20%.Bottom line will not crash!!!!
    Whatever the bullshit,PROFIT AND LOSS is the MAIN WORD!!!

  3. Ezzies says:

    Hey Gilbert

    Another piece of good article, well that’s Singapore. When I was a student, I still recalled those day where I need to say the pledge with my fellow mates in the school field,” We the…..Build a democratic society based on justice and equality.” As I grew up and being to reflect and ponder about other countries system. I realised that is a nice piece of statement which hold no truth in Singapore.

    In Singapore, we boast ourselves as a corrupt free nation yet I see our key party benefiting themselves through the legal system. When the taxi company decided to increase the fare like the above. The consumer group with a PaP Minister as its president does a sing along session with the company. Yet at the same time, the government inform the public to brace themselves for a possible financial downturn in 2012. What a contradiction! Where is the justice? Shouldn’t they just shelf this fare increment with a reduce in rental for the benefit of taxi driver, lest the people will suffer if a downturn really strike.

    In NTUC Fairprice, a supposed social enterprise formed with a social mission to moderate the cost of living in Singapore. Now one of the largest retailer in Singapore. They are employing China and Pinoy to work in their retail stores. Ain’t the union supposed to work for the better well being of Singaporean? Those foreigner were employed for a simply underlying reason to increase the profit margin due to their cheap labour cost. Where is the equality? If a labour union related to the key party couldn’t care less about the plight of unemployed Singaporean by employing the foreigner to take over these mandate jobs? Shouldn’t these job be given to the local true blue Singaporean at a reasonable wages?

    Sometime when I look at current Singapore, I can’t help but saddened by what I see. We claimed to corrupt free and democratic when compared to fellow Asian nations. Yet we are the opposite.

  4. Aiyah says:

    CASE is actually affiliated to NTUC. If the latter has been toothless towards Singapore workers for so many years, one can easily expect the same dumbed trait from CASE too. Nothing new under PAP umbrealla – all wayang and talk-show only. If you asked them to really take action for the good of the people, they will think you want a piece of their meat and than shunned away into their snake pit.

  5. ezzies says:

    oops “If a labour union related to the key party couldn’t care less about the plight of unemployed Singaporean by employing the foreigner to take over these mandate jobs?”

    oops sorry typo error is mundane jobs, not mandate.

  6. easyyoke says:

    I stopped taking costly taxi for many years unless its an choice.

  7. Ang says:

    I am truly very surprised. It has been made known that the fare increase went to the taxi driver and there was no rental announced.

    Isn’t it good that the increased fares increased the taxi drivers income? Why is Gilbert so upset about the taxi drivers getting higher income?

    Maybe the taxi fares should reduced so that commuters enjoy cheaper fares at the expense of the taxi drivers?

  8. Ironman says:

    Dear Gilbert,
    As usual, your article, though a rehash, seeks to tweak the truth without any intent of presenting facts accurately.

    Tripartism is not a union movement. It simply means a relationship between the govt, employers and the unions. Every country has a tripartite model. It is whether it works or not.

    In Singapore, say what you want, it is evident that we do not have violent strikes each time there is a wage demand. Years ago, there was only one other example of a working tripartite relationship – Ireland. When the last financial crisis started, that tripartite model collapsed overnight, with all three parties trading suspicions.

    By asking for this framework (which is essentially “trust”) to be thrown away, you would do better to propose something else that is workable. Would you please?

  9. [...] approach has led frustrated consumers to perceive the organisation as one which is toothless. Consumers would be more than happy to provide a set of dentures for CASE to remind unscrupulous [...]

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