Can I be unionized if I am a professional, an executive or a manager? Answers to this and other questions about NTUC union membership

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the job market as it continues to wreak havoc around the world.

Layoff and unemployment figures are expected to continue to climb in the second half of the year as the outlook is uncertain in many sectors, said NTUC Deputy General Secretary and Labor MP Patrick Tay.

The NTUC and its affiliated unions are there to lend a hand.

Calls for help from workers have increased in recent months. Among other things, the NTUC helps match displaced workers to new jobs through the NTUC Job Security Council; administer the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19), which provides one-time financial assistance of up to $300 to eligible union members; and the Self-Employed Income Assistance Program (SIRS) Assistance, which pays up to a total of $9,000 in cash over nine months to each eligible self-employed person.

The NTUC is helping workers in these difficult times through its affiliated unions. Unions work with companies to retain workers, negotiate layoff plans for affected union members, help with job matching, help aggrieved members file wrongful dismissal complaints with the Department of Manpower (MOM) and assist employees in their disputes with management.

Mr. Tay currently leads programs that help protect workers’ rights. It answers five questions about union membership and how a union can help you, even if you are an SME (a term commonly used to refer to professionals, managers and executives).

1. Why should I join a union? Am I unionized if I hold a Plus! map?

One of the main advantages of being a member of the NTUC union is that unions can speak on behalf of workers and represent their rights and interests before the company.

In a recession like this, unions will work with management to cut costs to save jobs and avoid or minimize cutbacks. Unions will also help members resolve disputes with management and negotiate severance payments if layoffs are unavoidable.

In addition, unionized companies that have collective agreements with unions usually provide for severance payouts for union members. On the other hand, an employee who is not a member of a trade union will not be entitled to these severance payments if these are not included in the employee’s employment contract.

Under normal circumstances, unions engage in collective bargaining for their members and lobby for conditions of employment that go beyond legal requirements. These could include annual salary supplements, bonuses and salary increases.

The +! the card is a plus! Rewards program membership card for all NTUC social enterprise clients. Cardholders who are not members of the Union will not be entitled to any privileges or benefits of Union membership.

2. I am classified as an SME. Can I also join a trade union? How can a trade union help me as an SME?

It’s a common belief that only rank-and-file workers can join a union, but that’s not true – SMEs can join unions too.

Unions recognized by the company can collectively represent SMEs. Alternatively, they can also help individual SMEs in the following cases:
(a) unfair dismissal;
(b) the amount of termination benefits;
(c) termination of employment contracts;
(d) victimization issues; and
e) re-employment disputes.

Let me give you an example of how a union recently helped a member of an SME who was wrongfully dismissed. The company claimed the worker made a mistake at work and wanted to terminate his employment.

The union negotiated on behalf of the member and achieved a positive outcome for the member. The company withdrew its termination letter, accepted the member’s resignation and waived the notice requirements.

3. Why does a worker need a union to defend his rights when he can complain about unfair dismissals and wage disputes directly to MOM?

We need to correct this misconception. While MOM oversees employment matters in Singapore, the individual worker cannot file wrongful dismissals or wage disputes with MOM on their own.

If you are not a member of a union and you are facing an unfair dismissal or a wage dispute, you should apply for mediation with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) and attend mediation first. If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute, they can then go to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT).

However, if you are unionized, your union can help you negotiate with your company. If the dispute is still unresolved after negotiations, then the union can help you file a grievance with TADM and guide you through the process.

This means that union members will benefit from union support and guidance.

4. You shared that some SMEs have had their jobs laid off when in fact they have been laid off. What should workers be aware of and how can the NTUC help?

Let’s break the answer down into the following areas.

First of all, what is a retrenchment?

Second, what is the difference between being contractually terminated and being fired?

Third, what should I do if I am not receiving the payments owed to me if I am terminated?

Finally, how can the NTUC help?

A layoff occurs when there is a surplus of labor and workers are laid off. This could be due to the reorganization of the company’s work or a slowdown in activity, such as during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Next, we consider the difference between termination and retrenchment.

Contract termination occurs when the employer terminates the worker with notice or pays wages in lieu of notice under the employment contract. Apart from unpaid wages or repayment of debts, the company does not need to make any other payments to the worker.

On the other hand, when a worker is laid off, there may be severance benefits – payments made to employees to compensate them for job loss. The problem is that some companies may fire their employees, but present it as a dismissal to avoid paying severance pay. This is commonly called disguised entrenchment.

If you are a member of a union and believe you have been the victim of constructive dismissal, please contact your union for assistance. Whenever possible, the union will work with the company to obtain severance pay on your behalf. If the company remains non-cooperative, the union can file for arbitration with the Labor Arbitration Tribunal. These benefits will not apply if you are not a union member.

5. What is one thing you would like to say to SMEs today?

We understand your concerns – the main one being that you are unable to get and keep a good job, especially in the current uncertain economic situation.

I wish to encourage more SMEs to join the NTUC so that we can serve and protect your interests and strengthen the collective voice of SMEs.

We will work together, with you and for you – because every worker matters.