I’m a worker, so what are my rights?



  • How/where can PMEs voice their grievances?
  • The way PMEs are defined determines the way they are protected.
  • Clearly defining terms and categories saves a lot of confusion when disagreements arise.


Like most other Singaporeans, I closely followed the recent SMRT debacle that led to 29 Chinese SMRT bus drivers being sent home.


The whole incident showed us the important role unions can and should play in helping workers – especially vulnerable ones – address any labour issues before things get out of hand and people lose their livelihood.


While the outcome wasn’t a favourable one for the workers, I think the event pushed some interesting questions to the forefront of public debate: How do unions work in Singapore? When a strike is considered illegal? What are some of the legal recourse disgruntled workers can use to voice their grievances?


Other interesting questions my own colleagues threw up revolved around the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) in Singapore: are they allowed to strike, or is that reserved for more labour-intensive professions? Are they allowed to join unions, or is that reserved for low-wage workers? If not, then what recourse do they have in case of labour disputes?


What’s in a name?!


The fact that the government, employers, and unions fundamentally have different definitions for PMEs is already a major obstacle to reach a consensus on which rights to defend and which obligations to fulfil.


According to the Ministry of Manpower, PMEs are “(…) employees with executive or supervisory functions. These functions include the authority to influence or make decision on issues such as recruitment, discipline, termination of employment, assessment of performance and reward, or involvement in the formulation of strategies and policies of the enterprise, or the management and running of the business.”


This extremely broad definition also includes all professionals with tertiary education and specialised skills such as lawyers, accountants, dentists, and doctors.

The tripartite partnership in Singapore between of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) recognises PMEs to have an educational qualification of at least a Diploma and/or have been employed and have had work experience in a PME job, and/or make more than 4,500 SGD per month.


I’m already getting a headache as I try to come to terms with all these definations.


Again, the broadness of this definition can be moulded to fit pretty much anyone from PR consultants to brain surgeons or freelance graphic designers, which inevitably leads to complications when specific solutions are required for very unique grievances.


Have a look at this publication, “Workplace Rights for the Busy Executive”, at least it highlights a broader definition of who you are and what rights you’re accorded.


Moving along

While the document is not legally binding, it definitely helps move things in the right direction for this special category of employees who often clock crazy amounts of overtime without extra pay (because they’re already at the manager level) and who don’t actually know that they can exercise their rights as PMEs (because they don’t even know if their company is unionised or not).


In fact, many of them don’t even know that they have free access to mediation services to resolve issues between employee and employer. PMEs earning up to 4,500 SGD per month are able to leverage this option as opposed to getting involved in lengthy and expensive legal proceedings.


I am personally in favour of such measures, even if I feel the steps currently being taken are still very small.


On the positive side, I am now armed with the knowledge that if I ever have a work-related grievance I know who to go to and what to do. Five years ago, this was totally unheard of.


PMEs are often told to “bite the bullet” and I can just imagine how many gripes and grievances go unnoticed because PMEs accept heavy workloads and demanding hours in fear of losing their jobs and their livelihoods?


As far as I and my immediate networks are concerned, finding reliable and timely information on such issues remains a priority: it is one thing for there to be laws and regulations in place, but it’s a whole other thing for people to actually be aware of them and start using them to defend what they feel is right.


It never hurts to know your rights. After all, prevention is better than cure.

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