Why Singaporeans do not fight for their rights?

By September 3, 2019Current

TL;DR – Are protests the only solution? 

Cover Image Source: ST Online

“Wah! You saw that Hong Kong protest thing? Fight until so messy leh! Even the airport also kenna.” 

The Hong Kong protests have got to be one of the most talked about topics with my peers for the last months. It has been ongoing for over 80 days since the first protest broke in June. The extradition bill, which had sparked off the protests might not even be relevant now as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was actually quite swift in declaring on 15th June that the bill be suspended indefinitely. But no, that did not stop the protests. We’re into September now, and the Hong Kongers are still unappeased. In fact, the protests have gotten more and more violent and vindictive. 

These protesters clad in black and all geared up, stood shoulder to shoulder, risking their lives each day (or for some, every weekend) to fight for their “freedom”. While I cannot agree with how disruptive and violent some of them are behaving, I do have to commend them for their doggedness and bravery. 

“Aiya, you see this kind of things ah, can happen anywhere in the world but just not Singapore. Singaporeans too hum ji (Cowardy) already lah!” – Tan Ah Beng*, 2k19. 

I am sure you have heard the above before. People talking about Singaporeans being too afraid to fight for their rights and for freedom. And people talking about Singaporeans are too apolitical to fight for democracy. Of course I hate hearing how some people are calling us cowards, but on the other hand, I’m also relieved that Singapore does not see the same kind of problems and challenges that Hong Kong has and that would make us take to the streets to protest. 

But serious, is it true that Singaporeans do not fight for ourselves? Is it true that Singaporeans are just too apathetic? Are we too afraid of our government and way too suppressed and whitebrainwasher?  

I choose to believe that we pick our battles wisely, and we fight it the right way. 

“I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

This is probably one of my favourite quotes growing up before I discovered Lang Leav. At that young age, I had no idea who said that. But that quote left such a deep impression that years on, I still hold it very near to my heart. With Google’s help, I found out that Abraham Lincoln said that. Being an extrovert, this quote speaks to my heart and is something I can apply readily too! When I was still wet behind the ears and lacking skills and experience, that’s how I had survived at different workplaces.  (Are my ex-bosses reading this?) 

Yup, I make friends. 

I was invited to lunch with Minister Khaw recently. I said ‘yes’ without asking for the programme or agenda. I probably should change that habit. I am way too easy.


I later found out that it was a Thank-You lunch hosted by Minister Khaw for Taxi Drivers. The lunch session was to thank them for their input on the new regulations for the Point-To-Point Transport.

Image Source: Taxi Kaki Singapore Facebook 

Ideas for policies and regulations do not just fall from the sky. And it’s not just about the public servants flashing powerpoint and emailing reports to the ministers for them to dream up some policies and regulations.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, our ministers and ministries do engage different stakeholders and gather feedback to ensure that their policies are not just something that only the ministers believe will work. For instance, for the transport sector, the Ministry of Transport (MOT) has often consulted with NTUC’s National Taxi Association (NTA) or even the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) to hear the challenges they are facing and also to gather feedback.

When MOT was working on the regulations and guidelines involving Point-to-Point Transport, they too had engaged the stakeholders. There is no better group of people to speak to than those who will be affected by the changes, i.e. the drivers at National Taxi Association (NTA), and National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA). 

Can you see the unique Singapore brand of collaboration here?

Imagine if there had been no consultation and the Ministry just rolls out the Point-To-Point Transport Industry Bill without listening to the drivers and considering their standpoints. Surely there would be blindspots and surely there would be unhappiness on the drivers’ side, right? And if so, how loudly the drivers will protest against the Bill will depend on how unfair and how impractical the Bill is. 

If there’s involvement of the stakeholders right from the start, the different parties can just sit around the same table and discuss workable solutions. As much as unions and associations need their voices to be heard, many government agencies too want to work with the industry players and they welcome feedback too. 

Back to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) lunch that I’d attended, I found out that MOT had engaged and consulted taxi drivers through NTUC’s NTA. I guess for practicality’s sake, it is just not possible for MOT to talk to every single one by one, so instead it goes to NTUC to engage their members.

In NTA’s case, it has over 20,000 taxi drivers as members. Quite impressive, I’d say.

So even though there’s no protest and no flipping of tables, can we touch our heart and say there’s been no fight? Not all fights need to be confrontational and violent, you know. 

When MOT was consulting and engaging the NTA taxi drivers, I’m sure the taxi drivers fought for their voices to be heard, fought for their concerns and challenges to be addressed. Is this not fighting too?

Not bad right. Food bringing people together.


In short, we do fight. 

The labour movement, together with the leaders and members of the associations and unions affiliated with NTUC, fight more than many of you will ever know. If you subscribe to the notion of “If I did not see it, it means it did not happen”, then I have some comeback and rebuttal for you that are not suitable for print, LOL.

Remember the story “The bundle of sticks”? The moral of the story is simply “Unity is strength”.

Yes, a worker or a taxi driver alone may not be able to kick up enough ruckus to be heard. But if you’re part of a bigger team, then yes, there’s lots of strength in unity. That’s why people join unions and associations.

It pays to be protected and to have a mountain behind you.

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I mean we do not expect the ministers to meet everyone one by one and gather feedback, right? (Fine, that is what meet-the-people-session is for.) So this is where it pays to be part of a union or association to ensure that our collective voices are heard. And if you’re game enough, you can even step up to be a union leader to represent your fellow workers. Ya, can meet ministers and ministry people to talk louder.

Our forefathers had fought hard and sacrificed much for the peace and harmony that we have now. We are enjoying the fruit of their hard labour. Let us not take things for granted and throw it all away. Are you sure that you want Singapore to be more “liberated” and for Singaporeans to fight for everything by literally fighting on the streets? I’m not sure about you but I am pretty sure that is not the kind of Singapore I want my son to grow up in.


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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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