Thursday, August 12, 2010

Does Singapore YOG Violate ILO Forced Labour Convention?

The following news story was in the Straits Times earlier this year:

Jun 15, 2010
S'pore to ratify ILO Convention
By Lee Jia Xin

SINGAPORE will ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention on Tripartite Consultation.

This announcement was made by Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong at the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

Convention 144 aims to establish national tripartite consultations in ILO member states to promote the implementation of international labour standards. It requires ratifying ILO members to undertake effective consultations on matters pertaining to ILO activities between representatives of the government, employers and workers.

With the ratification of Convention 144, Singapore has ratified seven ILO Core and Priority Conventions. One of the core conventions is the Forced Labour Convention (No. 29).

The International Labor Organisation, in C29 Forced Labour Convention, 1930, defines forced labour as follows:
Article 2

1. For the purposes of this Convention the term forced or compulsory labour shall mean all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.

Let's break down this definition and apply it to what is happening to secondary, JC and polytechnic students during this Youth Olympic Games

1. Work or Service

Singaporean students have clearly been involved in various forms of work or service during the YOG, including ushering and flag-bearing. Consider "JC students being “signed up” to volunteer at YOG events after school hours"
One student will be posted to Jalan Besar stadium to serve as an usherer for the football matches held there from 4pm to 11pm daily for the next one week:

“It is ridiculous, our schedule is so tight already and we still have to go to provide free labor at YOG. Where got time to prepare for our term tests? I am going to bring my textbooks there and study,” he wrote in exasperation.

Another JC student was ”volunteered” to be a flag-bearer during the opening ceremony of the YOG this coming Saturday:

“You can’t imagine how many rehearsals we have to go through to prepare for the stupid event. The teachers are super on the ball as if their year end bonuses depend on how well they perform at the YOG.”

2. Menace of Penalty

Apparently, students have been told that if they do not participate, they will not be given a testimony upon graduation. Consider 'YOG volunteers complain about being served “dog food”'

Another student complained:

“I am from Temasek Poly and I am forced to take part in YOG. It is made so compulsory that in the event that i do not take part, I will not get a testimony at the end of my graduation. That is the most irritating thing right now.”

Consider also "Singapore students being forced to “volunteer” for YOG"

One Nanyang Polytechnic student Hanif revealed on the “I hate YOG” Facebook that they are being dangled with carrots and sticks to “support the YOG."
“Students in a Republic Polytechnic are required to volunteer for the YOG. Failure to do so will pull down their CE, which is crucial for them to graduate. So they can’t say no.

this sounds like a big menace of penalty to me.

3. Said person has not offered himself voluntarily

This is perhaps the biggest complaint amongst the Singaporean students involved in the YOG. Consider "Secondary Two student on YOG: Communist much?"

I received a letter from my school informing me that, as a secondary two student, I was required to welcome the YOG flame with the school by the cheering it on as it ran past Woodlands Mart.

I groaned as the teacher emphasized on the word ‘mandatory’, and when she stated that if I were to absent myself with no appropriate reason, I would be sent to detentio[n].

The day after, via an online forum, I learnt that not only in my school, but students from other secondary schools around Singapore were forced to cheer on the YOG flame at certain designated points.

If this students' claims are true, then clearly students are being involuntarily manipulated into participating in the YOG, without being paid a single cent for their efforts.

Violation of the ILO Convention??

The feedback, complaints and anecdotal evidence emerging on the internet, describing the manner in which the PAP government is co-opting students to "support" and to provide free labor for the YOG, seem to conform perfectly to the ILO's definition of Forced Labour.

Yet, the very convention that Singapore has ratified, states

Article 1

1. Each Member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this Convention undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period.

So tell me, in its involvement of Secondary, JC and Poly students in the organisation of the YOG, is Singapore abusing its education system to engage in the systematic violation of human rights via Forced Labour, and in the process also violating the very ILO convention it just committed to ratify a month ago?


Anonymous said...

the worse part is that the student may have to waiver off their rights to damages in a waiver form signed by their parent, so in the remote possiblities that they suffer any injury or death in the course of volunteering themselves, it is nobody's fault

Anonymous said...

I think it's worth questioning if the Community Involvement Programme(CIP), a mandatory community service scheme for all secondary and junior college students violates the ILO. But I also saw that FLC No. 29 also provides for a number of exceptions:

"Exceptions are provided for work required by compulsory military service, normal civic obligations, as a consequence of a conviction in a court of law (provided that the work or service in question is carried out under the supervision and control of a public authority and that the person carrying it out is not hired to or placed at the disposal of private individuals, companies or associations), in cases of emergency, and for minor communal services performed by the members of a community in the direct interest of the community."

It could be argued that what the students has been coerced to do falls within the list of exceptions. Then again I sometimes what's the point of having a FLC at all when there's so many exceptions which are rather vague. Something interesting I found. National service in Eritrea should fall under "compulsory military service", but I came across a paper which actually argued that despite the exception, what the conscripts are forced to do clearly violates even that exception:

InSpir3d said...

It's hard to argue that astroturfing, manufactured cheering and threats of detention / non-graduation can possibly come hand in hand with 'minor communal services' and 'normal civic obligations'. If students are under these 'civic obligations', why arent working adults like you or me obligated too?

The fact of the matter is that the education system is the only coercive channel that the PAP is able to use to manufacture the 'grassroots support' it needs, without arousing too much backlash or looking stupid. Just imagine what it would look like if u had NSmen cheering along the roads as the YOG buses went by.

But just because the kids are not in a position to resist the coercion does not make it right.

Sam Ho said...

should this be forwarded to MOE? i think it should.

Anonymous said...


I see the United Nation Secretary everywhere talking like a sage extraordinaire, the United Nations Building stands tall and prominent.

Me knows there is judiciary in every civilized country and all kinds of rights movements everywhere.

AND YET, everywhere people are expecting their more often than not shenanigan leaders, oppressors and exploiters to provide them the protections, honour the liberties and virtues of human societies.

Not that i am cynical of so called leaders, i am just as cynical of freedom fighters.
Me had participated in most of the Discussions in the 'theonlinecitizen' blogsite and sad to say, the Human Rights activists were hardly visible there. Are they interested in Human Rights?


Xtrocious said...


Sounds exactly like how army boys are always "volunteered" to do sai kang...sigh

Looks like they are starting them younger and yonger...

Anonymous said...

The following is a very good music video on the WASTE of YOG.

Anonymous said...

Prior to the YOG, this form of compulsory support already existed in many schools with regards to supporting school teams. Both my secondary school and JC had rules that mandated that students turn up to support the school team at a certain number of events every year.

Anonymous said...

With nine folks here wondering about Human Rights.

Can we expect some Rights and Freedom Activists and Advocates to come and interact?

InSpir3d said...

Human rights is one issue. Violation of an international convention that the govt has ratified is another.

Malay Atheist said...

Bloody hell, thousands of Police Force NS Men were called for this shit. How's that for forced labour? That one REALLY no choice. What extra value was added to MY LIFE PERSONALLY by this thing? Nothing!

I hated the YOG. I hate the F1 races. I hate almost every god-damned idea Singapore politicians come up with sell the Singapore "brand". That casino was another idea I hated.

Bloody hell. Only young people and students can be considered for human rights abuses hah? Damn it, conscription in 2011 should be considered forced labour.