Many PMEs in Singapore do not see the need to join a union that can effectively represent them. Instead, they take solace in lamenting how they suffer from unfair treatments at work, unreasonable workplace practices or dismissal over gatherings or other social occasions. Many PMEs are still unaware of the numerous changes to PMEs protection at the workforce driven by NTUC (National Trades Union Congress). We engaged a representative from NTUC to address some of the common questions asked by the PMEs community in Singapore and to answer the mother of all questions – Is NTUC helping PMEs in Singapore or not?
1. Am I covered under any employment laws?
The existing Employment Act by Ministry of Manpower (MOM) only covers workers earning a basic pay of $4,500 or less a month. If we include employer CPF contribution of 17%, this means more than 70% of Singaporean workers (2012 data) but less than 50% of PMEs are covered (using 2013 data).
Although this is a great improvement from the previous Employment Act’s coverage limit of $2,500 basic monthly pay (before NTUC actively lobbied for more PME protection), NTUC wants MOM to extend protection further to cover 80% of PMEs in Singapore. While MOM is reviewing NTUC’s proposal, PMEs earning more than $4,500 basic monthly pay can join NTUC for more workplace protection.
2. How Does NTUC Offer Workplace Protection?
NTUC has seen an increasing number of local PMEs being retrenched or tormented by work-related issues such as unfair termination or workplace discrimination.
If you’re an NTUC member, NTUC is able to represent you and negotiate on your behalf with your employer on workplace issues.
NTUC has U PME centres in e2i and One Marina Boulevard, and a third centre which is virtually accessible online to create more awareness among PMEs of their workplace rights and placement services.
NTUC members can access a suite of PME resources online, attend legal primers, seek advice from legal clinics and enjoy workplace advisory services.
PMEs need to understand that the union is only legally allowed to help unionised members. It’s like a workplace insurance – if you don’t join, how can the insurance company assist you?
3. Can NTUC Protect My Rice Bowl From Foreign Talent?
With the recent influx of foreign talents into Singapore labour market, the majority of our local PMEs feel that these foreign talents are taking away their career opportunities in Singapore.
The prevalence of foreign PMEs particularly in the banking and information technology sectors is hard to hide under the carpet, which triggered calls from NTUC to the government twice in June and August 2011 to implement a form of Labour Market Testing and foreign PME dependency ratio.
In response, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced the Fair Consideration Framework in September 2013 which requires companies to advertise the job vacancy in a National Jobs Bank for at least 14 calendar days.
Fair Consideration for Singaporeans puts both Singaporeans and foreigners on equal standing. Although there is no outright mandate to hire Singaporeans first if foreigners prove to be more competitive, this is to ensure that Singaporean candidates are given the opportunity to be assessed fairly by hirers.
NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay called on the government in 2015 to update on the effectiveness of the Jobs Bank and Fair Consideration Framework.
While the reply was that participation on the Jobs Bank has been “encouraging”, there were no statistics given on how many jobs are given to Singaporeans, what jobs went to foreigners, why these jobs were given to foreigners and missing skill sets our Singaporean workers lack to get the jobs they want.
The golden question now is whether MOM is actively policing the Fair Consideration Framework well enough. You can help be the teeth of the system by highlighting unfair hiring practices to NTUC, MOM or TAFEP.
4. Can NTUC Help Me With Promotion & Pay Raise?
Yes but you have to play a part by encouraging smarter working practices within your industry, enhancing productivity, increasing revenue and expanding your market with innovations. In short, give yourself a better chance at success.
NTUC is actively pushing for the Progressive Wage Model across companies in Singapore to raise the wages for workers, even PMEs.
As more companies incorporate the Progressive Wage Model, this will eventually translate to first movers paying competitive salaries with better career opportunities.
With that your organisation will then need to either match the salary and career expectations or risk losing a significant quantity of its talents to their competitors.
Find out how you can ask for a promotion and pay raise here.
Once again, this is an area which requires two hands to clap. If you have not been updating or enhancing your skills, it’s time to attend courses to update your knowledge in these fields.
Continuous training and re-education show potential employers that you take your professional life seriously and give you an edge over the average worker in the job market.
NTUC funding schemes such as UTAP funding help to subsidise skill training for PMEs.
6. Is NTUC Fighting For More Work-life Balance?
NTUC is pushing for companies to use technology and innovations to make jobs easier, safer and smarter. The big idea is to help workers do more with less effort and shorter time (so you can go home earlier).
NTUC is also pushing for half of unionized companies to have flexi work by end of 2015.
7. Is NTUC Helping PMEs in Singapore or Not?
NTUC understands that they have yet to address all the needs of PMEs but they are doing their best to look after the group’s interests. PMEs also need to do their part for the partnership to work.
There is strength in numbers.
For NTUC to exert a strong influence and negotiating power on the other tripartite members of government and employers, there has to be a substantial number of its PME union members.
If you have any questions about unions and union representation, you can contact NTUC.
The existing Employment Act only offers basic protection. Joining NTUC will strengthen the unions to push for more initiatives for the interest of the workers.