If you’ve ever had one job that you wanted to find out more about, what would it be?
Or, if you knew someone working in a particular role, but always wanted to find out what he or she does, which role is that?
An Industrial Relations Officer (IRO) is one of those jobs that many do not know about…and often their work goes unnoticed behind the scene.
Just ask 28 year old Jayden Tan. He joined the NTUC as an IRO two years ago, fresh out of University and has been attached to the Metal Industries Workers’ Union (MIWU).
I spent an afternoon with him as he visited a company unionised under MIWU and got to see him interact with union members within the company.
I arrived at the company in Woodlands about 20 minutes late, and Jayden was already waiting for us at the front porch of the office building. Of course, I apologised for my own tardiness. But Jayden brushed it off, saying he just reached shortly before me.
We quickly proceeded to the meeting room which was empty as the workers were still at their workstations.
But soon, the room was filled with about 15 workers who were expecting a briefing from Jayden who was their representative in negotiating for their owed salaries.
Yup, you didn’t read that wrongly. The workers in company XYZ were owed their salaries on various occasions for the past 1 year.
According to Jayden, the company had claimed that because orders were slowing down, they were unable to pay salaries to employees. On other occasions, the management of the company who were foreigners claimed that they were waiting for funds to be remitted to the office here before salaries could be paid out.
Sometime back, 52-year-old branch official Irene Tan had to take paid sick leave for a year for her chemotherapy treatment. But she found out that the company had defaulted on her salary of 8 months.
She said that after the union had found out about her case, they helped her to get her salary back.
Witnessing him brief the workers about their salaries, you could see that Jayden really has a heart for the affected workers and is trying his best to help them.
But why did he even choose to work as an IRO. Here’s our conversation:
Why did you choose to join the NTUC as an Industrial Relations Officer?
Jayden: Before I joined, I had a bit of passion for HR. For this IRO role, it’s a bit of a mixture. You have to know HR; you need to know a bit of the law; and even be a bit of a salesperson to “sell” membership.
So this got me interested in the position.
After being the job for 2 years, is this something which you expected?
Jayden: Before starting on the job, I somehow had a bit of information of what the job entails. I was told that it is more than signing Collective Agreements. What I’ve been told, is exactly what I’m already doing; even managing events and being an emcee.
What was your initial impression of what NTUC does?
Jayden: I did hear about unions and how it has fought for interests of workers. Just that I wasn’t sure about the detailed job description of an IRO.
What is a typical day for an IRO?
Jayden: For our IROs in MIWU, every day is different. Some days we will start off the day visiting the branches (unionised companies), other days we will be in our union office for meetings in the morning. or we could even be back in NTUC Centre for meetings or courses.
Does working on weekends affect your personal time?
Jayden: I think you have to manage your time well. It’s not really an issue. Of course, when we have events on weekends, then we will have to help out. It’s really a team spirit, everyone contributes and works together to make things work out.
How did you help Company XYZ?
Jayden: Company XYZ is a rather new branch which I took over in 2015. There’s no CA or anything. When I first came to this company, it was still doing fine. Just that when the slowdown started, the company began facing some issues such as the salary arrears.
I spoke with the members and they flagged out some of the wrong practices which the company had been practicing. The company was bought over by another company three years ago and some of the original welfare benefits were lost during the takeover.
After about three months, the company experienced some drop in orders, and started to delay salary payment. Initially it wasn’t that bad. But consequently, it became and week and then a month. Until recently, it became worse, 2 months of salary arrears.
Was the malpractice a case of lack of knowledge of the correct practice?
Jayden: Actually one of the reasons is because the company does not have a formal Human Resource department.
Their accountant doubles up as a HR personnel. So unfortunately the HR officer does not really have a proper knowledge of what she’s supposed to do. So I really have to be patient with her and guide her along.
What were some of the constraints managing this branch?
Jayden: Because the senior management of the company are based in India, it is a bit more difficult to bring them in to formally sign some documents. We linked up with MOM to arrange a day to sign the collective agreement. To protect the interest of the workers, the Union managed to get a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by their local representative.
Would this branch possibly be the hardest branch to deal with?
Jayden: I wouldn’t say this is the hardest or most difficult. But it’s been challenging. Every branch poses a different challenge. So it’s really how you manage it. But for this branch, you have to constantly come down on site to make your presence felt.
The workers here have no one to look for. So, they can only rely on the union. And for the union, it is only by coming down that we can give them some form of assurance.
“You have to constantly come down on site to make your presence felt.”
– on how he manages the challenge.
Which three attributes should someone who is looking to join as an IRO possess?
Jayden: The first thing is passion to help others. The other is being sensitive to others. whatever you say may make a difference to the different stakeholders; management or workers. The third things is Time-management. A lot of events may consume much of your time, hence proper time-management is essential.