Many Singaporeans and migrant workers are feeling that there is a "pervasive sense of deep injustice that the weakest are being asked to sacrifice the most".
"...social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations and that, in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms..." - United Nations General Assembly's proclamation of 20 February as World day of Social Justice in 2007.
This year, the United Nations marked the 7th World Day of Social Justice on the 20th February 2013. In his message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon highlighted the challenge of overcoming income inequality and called on people around the world to "intensify our efforts to achieve a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable development path built on dialogue, transparency and social justice."
In the same spirit, Think Centre too believes that more can and must be done in Singapore to achieve a socially just society. The issues facing Singapore today that undermine social justice are many and multifaceted, however the most deep seated of all is discrimination.
One of the more recent examples is the arrest and prosecution of bus workers who stood up for their rights to ask for better work and living conditions. Instead of leveraging on the tripartite system to resolve this labour dispute, the whole weight of the government machinery was brought to bear on the workers. The incident not only reflected a lack of understanding for workers' rights but lack of respect and protection for the fundamental liberties of people in this country.
In the area of transparency, we witness how repeated calls by citizens to clarify the AIM saga were not provided with satisfactory answers. Concerned citizens want to understand why the ruling party owns a company that used public funds to develop software for town councils, and then chooses to terminate the provision of the same software once the opposition takes over municipal functions.
The worst indictment of the lack of social justice must be the continuing growth of income inequality here. This widening chasm between the rich and poor threatens the very promise the government made to uplift the lives of all Singaporeans. What many Singaporeans and migrant workers are feeling today, in the words of the ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, there is a "pervasive sense of deep injustice that the weakest are being asked to sacrifice the most". While the government is free to welcome investors and the rich to park and make their money here, more needs to be done to ensure that citizens here are able to lead dignified lives, and so too must the interests of workers who contribute to our economic prosperity be looked after.
In fact, the seeds of social justice were sowed at the birth of this nation when one of the founding fathers proclaimed in the early years "But we either believe in democracy or we don't.... If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right...Lee Kuan Yew, Legislative Assembly Debates, April 27, 1955.
58 years later, a semblance of such democracy, the freedom of speech and publication were made possible by access to social media. Today, more Singaporeans are coming forward to talk about the issues that affect our society. But words alone are not enough. We need to put in place the fundamental rights based framework that ensures that such freedoms are protected.
Without an adequate framework to buttress us from the ill effects of the logic of the market, we will not be able to achieve a life of dignity, regardless of our individual status of ethnicity, nationality, religion, social status, political views and disabilities.
Think Centre encourages everyone in Singapore, both citizens and workers to play a part in developing this framework that emphasizes social justice based on sustainable development, so as to move towards an inclusive, equitable and just society for all.
Sources and Relevant Links:
UN Secretary-General's Message for 2013 February 2013
ILO Message by ILO Director-General on World Day for Social Justice20 February 2013