Unsafety and Unions in Singapore’s state-led industrialization, 1965–1994

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Industrial hazards are a neglected part of the history of Singapore’s successful industrialization since independence in 1965. Our paper investigates risk in the competitive shipbuilding and repair industry across three decades and four serious accidents in the industry. The risk was determined by a group of factors: the political economy of the state-led industrialization program, the nature of work within the industry, the degree of supervision by safety officers and subcontractors; and the characteristics of the workforce, including the foreign workers. However, the key element was the Singapore state, which took a leading role in both the tripartite system of industrial relations and the industrial safety regime. The state and management shared the view that industrial development was crucial to Singapore’s survival. With the emphasis on productivity and the framing of industrial failure as a national calamity, unions and workers had little say in objecting to perilous work or proposing suitable remedies. While the government instituted numerous efforts to address occupational hazards, many failed to translate to the vessel and the factory floor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-121
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2020


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