Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill, what’s the difference?
Are you one of the 31.1% of the workforce classified as a Professional, Manager or Executive (PME)? This amendment is for you!
Previously only Executive Unions had the ability to negotiate on behalf of PME union leaders. The logic back then was simple. PMEs or white collared workers represented the management of the company. They were the ones who decided your pay increments, retrenchment and who gets fired. How could they represent both the interests of the worker and account for their professional decisions? Clearly, there was a conflict of interest.
Labour MP Zainal Sapari cited an instance when this affected some union leaders. Generally, PMEs were not allowed to be union representatives in a rank-and-file union, as soon as a worker was promoted to a managerial position, he could no longer be the union representative.
Then there is the difficulty of defining what a “PME” is.
Today, 31.1% of our resident workforce is made up of PMEs. To continue this blanket exclusion of almost a third of our workforce would be simply violating their ability to have access to their workplace rights.
One of the biggest challenges in the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act, is how to best define the term “executives” and consequently where to draw the line of exclusion from union representation.
Section 17(3) of the Act provides for some excluded categories of workers from this new collective representation of PMEs by our affiliated unions. However, the intention is to only exclude those who are in senior management positions or carrying out functions that would genuinely create conflict.
With the passing of the amendment, Parliament has affirmed the tripartite partners’ resolve to be future-ready and cater to the needs of the evolving working population.
By 2030, it is estimated that every 2 in 3 Singaporeans will be a PME. No, not because of inflated job titles, but because Singapore is moving towards a knowledge based industry.
Here are the changes in summary:
PMEs can now be collectively represented as a group by rank-and-file unions.
PMEs can now turn to unions for representation if they face re-employment issues.
Through these amendments, although some PMEs in conflicting positions are still excluded, mid-level PMEs who have powers to provide feedback for appraisals can still join rank-and-file unions as members. Hopefully, this will close the gap between our “blue collar” and “white collar” workers. This is important because previously the assumption was that PMEs are higher paid therefore they should be able to afford legal counsel at their own expense should they face any workplace violations of rights. However, we see that this is not the case as many junior level PMEs may not have access to legal counsel, leaving them vulnerable to abuses.
However, there is a caveat. Unions should not undermine the authority of management or try to influence management decisions of a company. Hence, Minister Tan Chuan Jin has assured Singaporeans that maximum flexibility and less prescriptive guidelines have been granted for unions and employees to find the best fit solution for the particular firm. There is no one-size fits all solution here. Singapore’s success in attracting foreign investment is largely based on our industrial peace here.
Business decisions such as hiring, firing, promotion, dismissals and disciplinary duties should still remain free for businesses to exercise. Those with access to confidential information, such as payroll and budgeting information; those who represent employers’ interest in union-management matters and those whose union affiliation would give rise to conflict of interest should also be excluded from union representation.
Labour MP Heng Chee How brought up an important point on industrial peace. If one thinks that industrial peace can be legislated with laws, one is naïve. Having strong tripartite alliances help us maintain this balance. It is, and will continue to be important to have the support of the government, employer and employee in order for a strong tripartite alliance.
Patrick Tay, also Labour MP closes his support for the IR Act amendments with a call to action: “…I call for PMEs in Singapore to embrace and take full advantage of this change by joining as union members and becoming a part of the labour movement of Singapore. “