What does a union do in Collective Bargaining?

Singapore trade unions avoid confrontational trade unionism – that is to say treating employers like an enemy, taking to strikes and bull dozing demands through without care for circumstances.

Militant trade unionism can lead to eroding of business competitiveness and eventually jobs. Unions that are too powerful lend to a fearful business environment where people are afraid to setup enterprises.

The powers of our unions is granted by the Industrial Relations Act. The Act is designed for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes through collective bargaining, conciliation and arbitration by the Industrial Arbitration Court.

If your company is unionised, one of the things they will be doing is that of Collective Bargaining.

In the course of bargaining, the Unions will negotiate on matters such as:

– wages and allowances,
– annual wage supplements,
– variable payments,
– medical/dental benefits,
– housing benefits,
– shift work,
– annual leave,
– sick leave,
– maternity/ paternity leave,
– compassionate leave,
– retirement,
– retrenchment benefits,
– establishing a grievance procedure,
– forming safety/productivity committees,
– insurance coverage

When all these have been bargained and agreed to, the Unions will then sign an agreement with the managers of your company. This is called a Collective Agreement. When it is signed and certified by the Industrial Arbitration Court, it is binding and a company must comply with it.

So what happens when an employer doesn’t comply? Well – then the union has recourse to the famous Industrial Action.

Industrial Action in the form of strikes has been romanticised too much by media. Action doesn’t necessarily have to just come in the form of strikes, it can also be in the form of arbitration.

Sometimes, unions don’t need a Collective Agreement for a case to be brought to arbitration.

Take for example the case on payment of retrenchment benefits by a company called Sealing Technologies Pte Ltd to 98 of its ex-employees who had 3 or more years of service.

The employees were represented by the United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries. The dispute was referred to the IAC for arbitration.

The issue was whether the ex-employees of the Company were entitled to retrenchment benefits despite there being no Collective Agreement in place.

The Court ruled that the ex-employees should be paid retrenchment benefits at the rate of 1 month per year of service, pro-rated for any incomplete year of service.
Collective bargaining however, does not interfere with an employer’s rights to:

– Promote/demote an employee,
– transfer an employee within the organisation, provided the transfer does not lead to the employee being worse-off
– to hire and fire
– re-assign duties

The work of collective bargaining shouldn’t be seen as an adversarial act. Unions can be friends with employers and as well as Government. This is the spirit of tripartism and it is something that many countries are unable to put into place.

 

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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