Friday, 1 November 2013

NTUC hopes for breakthrough in low-wage workers' pay increases

By Dylan Loh, Channel NewsAsia, 30 Oct 2013

The labour movement wants low-wage workers to achieve breakthroughs in pay elevation next year through its progressive wage model.

The plan is to launch accreditation schemes sector by sector to make progressive wage the norm for over 100,000 low-earners.

For professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), two new centres will be set up by year-end as new channels to offer assistance in finding jobs and other employment issues.

The centres will be located at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong and at the NTUC Centre at One Marina Boulevard.

The labour movement is working with industry associations that represent the workers to implement accreditation or licensing schemes.

The schemes will be tailored for each sector and will mark out firms which have adopted the labour movement's progressive wage model.

The labour movement will also be forming an expert group to assist its affiliates and unionised firms on the adoption of the progressive wage model.

The model champions skills-upgrading so that productivity and wages can increase with higher-quality jobs.

The labour movement wants to couple this strategy with quantitative guidelines issued by the National Wages Council to press home the need to elevate wages for low-earners.

It wants percentage increases for the pay of low-earners to be higher than percentage rises in national median wage over time.

Lim Swee Say, secretary general of National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said: "The best thing that the workers can do… to look after businesses, is to upgrade their skill, upgrade their productivity and spur the pace of innovation.

"On the part of the businesses, the best thing they can do for the workers will be in terms of giving them… better job prospects, career upgrading, as well as wage improvement."

The labour movement said this is crucial to support Singapore's economic restructuring efforts.

For PMEs, the aim is to bring unionisation rates from 20 per cent to 25 per cent.

For this, the labour movement will approach more professional bodies to form partnerships in tackling job placement, progression and protection issues faced by white-collar workers.

A review of the Industrial Relations Act also aims to broaden the scope of union representation for PMEs.

Currently, the Act restricts rank-and-file unions from representing managers and executives on a collective basis.

Patrick Tay, director of the PME unit at NTUC, said: "The impending changes to the Industrial Relations Act… allow rank-and-file unions to represent, collectively, PMEs.

"So in a way, the systems and structures and the laws are going to be in place. So it will then serve as (an) impetus for our unions to do outreach to bring in more members."

The labour movement believes that for all its efforts to bear fruit, strong tripartism -- where employers, the government and unions cooperate -- has to be widespread.

It will push for the formation of more tripartite groups for various industries and business sectors.

Now, the aim is to strengthen and formalise tripartism so that it is not just seen at the national level, but is also part and parcel of how individual sectors work.

Labour chief hits out at security firms body
NTUC won't let anyone hinder raising low-wage workers' pay: Swee Say
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2013

THE labour movement has hit out at the Security Association of Singapore for resisting its move to raise the wages of security guards.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will not allow the association - which represents about 130 security firms - or anyone to stand in its way of raising low-wage workers' salaries, warned labour chief Lim Swee Say on Tuesday.

Said the NTUC secretary-general: "The association, somehow it expressed its reservations for reason(s) unknown to me.

"But we believe that it's due to a lack of understanding, or maybe some of them only see (the) business scheme and cannot see the need for a worker scheme."

Referring to the labour movement's progressive wage model introduced in June last year, he warned: "But let me be very clear, we will never allow any one of them to slow us down."

Last month, the security association rebuffed NTUC's attempt to raise security guards' pay via the model, which seeks to increase the salaries of workers in low-wage jobs through training and productivity gains.

"It is for them to support our idea, not for us to agree to their way of doing things," association president T. Mogan said then.

NTUC had been in talks with the association to set basic pay at $1,000, on a par with that set for cleaners. But Mr Mogan said higher basic pay would raise overheads, and preferred firms to have flexibility in raising pay without a model prescribed onto them.

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

On Tuesday, Mr Lim told a biennial meeting of 1,100 union leaders, employers and officials that he "recognised that there could be resistance".

But he stressed that NTUC will continue to engage organisations that represent employers, saying: "We will engage all of them, because the more people who come on board, the faster, the wider we can implement the programme."

Next year, he added, will be a "breakthrough year", when some 100,000 low-wage workers can expect a pay hike.

NTUC said it wants "more companies in more sectors implementing the model for more workers". It will set up a group of internal progressive wage experts to drive the implementation. No details of the group were available.

NTUC touts '2 for 1' tie-up to woo professionals
They can be members of professional bodies and join unions as associates
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2013

MEMBERS of professional bodies and clubs will automatically become associate union members if their associations sign up with the labour movement.

This will ensure that professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) are served by not only their professional outfits, but also the unions.

Or in the words of labour chief Lim Swee Say at a key biennial meeting with union leaders, a "two for one" tie-up.

"The labour movement together with professional bodies... I think we'll serve our PMEs much better," he said in a speech made public yesterday.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has had a two- year trial to bring PMEs into its fold.

It partnered eight bodies and clubs such as the Nanyang Technological University Alumni Club and the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI). The tie-ups boosted NTUC's membership base by 8,100.

These bodies pay undisclosed fees to NTUC. Their members become card-carrying NTUC members who enjoy shopping discounts at FairPrice supermarkets and Unity pharmacies.

But they do not get benefits such as union representation during salary negotiations.

They can, however, individually turn to NTUC for help if they face workplace-related problems.

After two years, NTUC said it is ready to "call upon more professional bodies to collaborate" with it, said Mr Lim, who is secretary-general.

NTUC's membership director Vivek Kumar said it has not set specific targets for the scheme. "It is not about numbers. It really is about whether these PMEs see value in being part of the labour movement."

There are more than 200,000 PMEs on NTUC's roll, representing about one-fifth of the one million PMEs in the resident labour force.

It wants to eventually represent one in four PMEs here.

NTUC has more than 770,000 union members now, including students and retirees. It wants to reach one million union members by 2015, a target which Mr Lim described as "possible" and "within sight" on Tuesday.

To further assist PMEs in their careers, NTUC will also be setting up two new centres to give them career and legal advice. They will be located in Shenton Way and Jurong East.

"If you look at the workforce of the future, more than half of the workers will be PMEs... We must make sure that we are relevant to as many PMEs as possible," added Mr Lim, who also pledged to increase low-wage workers' pay.

SHRI president Erman Tan told The Straits Times that its tie-up with NTUC gave members links to the unions. The discounts and benefits were a draw too.

"It is always good for our members to have a strategic connection with NTUC, to understand its thinking and directions."

Unionists keen to help execs with rehiring woes
Labour movement pushes for more companies to set up unions
By Janice Heng And Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2013

THE labour movement wants more firms to be unionised so that it can represent professionals in re-employment disputes.

"We hope workers can help in organising unions in companies across Singapore," said labour MP Patrick Tay.

Only this will allow workers to benefit fully from the Industrial Relations Act, which applies to unionised firms, he said.

The Act is up for review, with changes to let professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) enjoy more union representation.

These include representing PMEs in re-employment disputes. By law, firms must offer re-employment to workers turning 62, if they are medically fit and have satisfactory work performance.

But bosses can adjust terms such as pay and benefits, for instance, if duties are reduced. Disputes may arise over these issues, contract length and job scope changes, said human resource experts.

With the proposed change to the Act, PMEs facing unsatisfactory re-employment offers can turn to the labour movement for help. The catch: Their company must have a rank-and-file union.

This is the case for four other areas in which PMEs already enjoy "limited representation" by law, said Mr Tay, who is director of the National Trades Union Congress' legal services department and PME unit.

"Adding this fifth area, re-employment, is really to align the Act with the law," he said. The re-employment law came into effect last year.

Though PMEs in non-unionised firms cannot be directly represented, they can still turn to the union if they are members, he said. "We will take up their cases, give them advice and refer them to tripartite mediation."

An alternative to unionisation is signing a memorandum of understanding. The Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union has done this with about 50 firms, allowing the union to represent their PMEs on workplace grie-vances.

HR experts expect disagreements over re-employment to be less fraught if unions step in.

"The relationship (between employer and employee) should be less strained," said Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute. "The union can look at things more independently and objectively."

Some firms may not face re-employment issues. OCBC Bank, for one, said it has not cut the pay of any re-hired workers.

But if disputes do happen, whether firms welcome intervention is another matter. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are wary of unionisation, said Association of SMEs president Chan Chong Beng. "A lot of SME bosses will not welcome their PME staff joining the unions."

Still, in the tight labour market, SMEs will want to offer attractive re-employment contracts anyway, he added. "Unless the guy really cannot work, SMEs will want to keep him."

MBS opens door for workers to join union
But collective bargaining and wage negotiations not covered by MOU
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 30 Oct 2013

AFTER two years of talks, Marina Bay Sands (MBS) has agreed to open its doors for a union to offer membership to its workers.

The nod from the integrated resort was described as "a significant breakthrough" by the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union (AREU), which had taken steps that could have forced the issue with the holding of a secret ballot among the workers.

But it did not come to that, said AREU and MBS yesterday at the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The terms of the agreement, however, do not provide for collective bargaining and negotiations over salary.

These terms are similar to those agreed on with Resorts World Sentosa, which had given the green light to AREU in 2011.

MBS, owned by United States company Las Vegas Sands, is among Singapore's biggest employers, with more than 9,000 workers.

Now, more than 80 per cent of them are eligible for general branch membership with the union.

The company will pay their membership fees.

In a joint statement, the union and MBS said a committee will be set up by unionised employees to discuss issues like skills upgrading with the management.

AREU president Hassan Abdullah told reporters the partnership is an extra platform the individual MBS worker can use to represent his interests.

MBS president and chief executive George Tanasijevich said the MOU would result in more social and recreational benefits for the employees.

He added: "In this labour market where we have very low unemployment, it's key to take care of your people and make sure you retain them."

Earlier this year, AREU had, in an aggressive bid to recruit MBS workers, set up booths at the resort's doorstep and signed up 200 to 300 of them.

It also served MBS an official claim for recognition, which could have led to a secret ballot among its workers had the company rejected it.

When asked why the discussions took so long, Mr Tanasijevich said: "We have developed as a company to the point where this was the next logical step in the enhancement of our employee-employer relationship."

Mr Hassan, on the other hand, said: "It's the norm... Every company will ask for time."

Collective bargaining a key union role

THE memorandum of understanding signed by Marina Bay Sands (MBS) and the Attractions, Resorts and Entertainment Union to allow the integrated resort's workers to obtain union membership is a good first step ("MBS opens door for workers to join union"; last Wednesday).

However, the fact that the agreement does not provide for collective bargaining and negotiations over salary on behalf of the workers is a cause for concern.

The power to bargain collectively, on behalf of its members, is a significant function of a union.

The process of collective bargaining empowers trade union representatives to negotiate salaries, hours of work, working conditions and peripheral allowances, which are then laid down in legally enforceable documents known as collective agreements.

In Singapore's tripartite system of labour relations, collective bargaining gives workers and their representatives a co-equal place at the negotiating table under the Industrial Relations Act.

Collective bargaining is a far more important benefit of unionisation than discounts on union recreational activities or participation in union-organised social events.

I find it puzzling that MBS should have objections to its workers being allowed to collectively bargain through their union, and hope it can eventually be persuaded to accept the raison d'etre of Singapore's tripartite system of labour relations.

Choo Zheng Xi
ST Forum, 6 Nov 2013

Union will still serve MBS workers

ONE key role of a workers' union is to engage in collective bargaining for its members' rights, benefits and welfare with their employers ("Collective bargaining a key union role"; last Wednesday).

Collective bargaining is made possible with the support of the majority of workers in a company or if the employer grants the union recognition or right to represent the workers.

The union can still serve the members through other means, even if we do not have the support of the majority of the workers to secure collective bargaining with the company.

The union can work closely with the management to strengthen labour-management relations, promote welfare and well-being of workers, provide workplace advice to workers, raise employment issues with the employer and union for resolution, and facilitate interactions between employees and employer.

In the case of Marina Bay Sands, its workers' response to the Attractions, Resorts & Entertainment Union's (AREU) membership recruitment efforts have been very encouraging.

However, the level of support from the workers was not high enough for us to secure collective bargaining with their employer.

Nonetheless, instead of walking away from the workers there, AREU reached a mutual agreement with MBS to offer a range of social benefits and workplace assistance. AREU is confident that it can work closely with MBS to advance the interests of our workers. The workers' union memberships are fully funded by MBS and at no cost to the workers. We believe this is a win-win situation and a big step forward in establishing a constructive labour-management relationship for the interest of the workers at MBS.

Charles Khng
General Secretary
Attractions, Resorts & Entertainment Union
ST Forum, 11 Nov 2013

New centre to help low-wage workers
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2013

LOW-WAGE workers residing in the western part of Singapore have a new avenue to seek help on job-related issues, following the opening of the first U Care Centre yesterday.

They can turn to the new centre, set up by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), for skills upgrading programmes as well as advice on their statutory benefits, like medical leave.

The centre at the Employment and Employability Institute in Jurong East replaces the Centre for Contract and Casual Workers in Redhill.

It expands NTUC's efforts to help more low-income residents from a wider range of sectors, like carpark attendants and pest control workers.

NTUC estimates there were almost 400,000 low-wage workers last year.

At the centre's official opening yesterday, the director of NTUC's Unit for Contract and Casual Workers, Mr Zainal Sapari, said: "We will be playing a greater advocacy role to help low-wage workers earn better wages and have better lives."

Those seeking advice on workplace issues can also call a new toll-free hotline, 1800-255-2828.

The centre and hotline will be open during office hours and on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.

Madam Susie Lim, 59, who supervises a team of nine toilet cleaners and earns about $1,500 a month, foresees the centre helping her with information like "if the boss doesn't need us any more, how much notice must he give". More such centres may pop up in other parts of Singapore if the demand in Jurong shows they are useful, said NTUC.

Another new initiative launched with the centre is U Care Communities, which will hold focus group discussions for low-wage workers. The first, planned for next week, is for carpark attendants.

* Security association 'following' move for tiered wages in sector
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2014

THE security association that had publicly rebuffed a move by NTUC to raise the pay of security guards has since backed down.

Last September, the Security Association of Singapore (SAS) openly objected to NTUC's move to implement a wage ladder for the sector, citing worries over overheads and the poor timing of the move.

It triggered a public spat, with labour chief Lim Swee Say saying: "Let me be very clear, we will never allow any one of them to slow us down."

Last week, SAS president T.Mogan told The Straits Times: "We spoke our mind, (about) our situation, then we quietened down.

"At the end of the day, they have decided to go ahead with it. We are following, that is it."

The association is the older of two security industry groups here, representing about 80 of 250 security firms.

The other group - the Association of Certified Security Agencies - wanted wage increases to be phased in over a few years, with efforts to cut working hours, improve training and the job's image to draw more Singaporeans.

Mr Mogan dismissed the suggestion that he had picked a fight with NTUC: "SAS never had a quarrel with the union.

"The association has never objected to security officers getting increments; already, the employer and bosses are giving increments to them."

In January, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said NTUC's wage ladder will be made mandatory for the cleaning and security sectors.

The move will take effect in the cleaning sector later this year, but no timeframe has been set for the security sector.

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