Monday, 28 June 2010

Singapore Glass Factory strike

The Singapore Glass Manufacturers Co. Ltd. was the sole manufacturer of glass containers in Singapore. Its factory, popularly known as the Singapore Glass Factory, stood on Henderson Road, and was a famous landmark in Bukit Merah for many years, from the late 1940s to the 1970s, before the development of Henderson Industrial Estate. The factory, with a workforce of more than 1,000, provided much needed employment to residents in the surrounding areas including Bukit Merah. However, relations between the Company and its employees had been strained due to several issues such as retrenchment of workers. This culminated in a strike on 28 August 1960 that lasted 73 days before it was settled, and workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November. The strike was marked by a number of incidents.

On the afternoon of 21 October 1960, the strikers formed a human chain to prevent a lorry carrying machinery from leaving the factory. The police failed to persuade the strikers to disperse, and a scuffle broke out. Four policemen were injured, and 39 strikers including eight women were arrested. At the lockup of Tanjong Pagar Police Station, the rebellious strikers created a scene by stomping on their bedsteads, singing, clapping, and shouting. They were subsequently charged under the Trade Disputes Ordinance.

At 8.00 am on 28 October, a group of workers arrived in four lorries to resume work at the factory. However they were quickly surrounded by strikers who tried to persuade them from breaking the strike. A heated argument between the two groups broke out, and the police dispersed them. A few days later, on 1 November, two lorries carrying 42 workers arrived at the factory gate. The workers had earlier met with Labour and Law Minister K. M. Byrne regarding their intention to resume work. Officials from the Ministry of Labour informed the strikers that they could persuade their colleagues not to resume work, but they were not allowed to obstruct them or to use violence. CID and uniformed police officers were deployed at the scene to maintain law and order. However, the strikers ignored the directive, and linked their arms to form a human barrier to prevent the workers from entering the premises. Fighting between the two groups broke out, and 38 workers managed to fight their way into the factory. The police moved in and arrested 14 people, out of which 13 were from the picket line. The 'strike-breakers' later revealed that they decided to resume work, as they needed money badly. Due to the volatile situation outside, they decided to stay in the factory.

On 3 November, representatives from the Singapore Machine & Engineering Employee's Union met with Labour and Law Minister Byrne to seek arbitration for the labour dispute. By 4 November, it was expected that the strike would end very soon, and the strikers picketed peacefully outside the factory. However, they prevented the factory oil-tankers from entering the premises.

After two rounds of talks chaired by James Puthucheary, then manager of the Industrial Promotion Board, the Union and the management of the Company reached an agreement on 8 November. The Company agreed to re-employ its workers as work became available on the basis of seniority of service in their respective departments. The Union agreed to provide a written undertaking that they would not call any strike or stoppage without giving at least four days' notice. In addition, they agreed to allow the factory to have unrestricted access to fuel oil supply at all times. Both parties also agreed to resume negotiations interrupted by the strike within four weeks, and to refer all matters that remained unsettled to arbitration.

Despite the successful resolution of the dispute on 8 November, the strikers were not about to let the 'strike-breakers' get away. They gathered at the gate in anticipation of the departure of the strike-breakers, and riot-control vans were called in to maintain order. Under the watchful eyes of the police, three lorries carrying the strike-breakers drove out of the factory and sped away. The 73-day strike was finally ended when workers returned in batches to the factory on 9 November.

Source: By Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia written on 2006-10-02

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