Union vs Employer: new dawn for collective bargaining?

Friday’s ST (Home section, p2) ran an article about the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union (SISEU) winning a court case against an errant employer. The NTUC’s legal arm, led by Mr Patrick Tay, took the company to the Industrial Arbitration Court for not giving annual increments to workers. Unusual.

Let’s face it, almost everyone in Singapore thinks that the best thing about being a NTUC member is the supermarket discount. You need look for no other anecdote to tell you that Singapore’s unions, at least to the face of the public, are practically unknown for their wage bargaining, dispute resolution, worker representation work. In other words, Singapore’s unions are best known for not being unions.

The NTUC has long been accused of being in bed with both government and businesses (and not without reason). Many workers have seen wage stagnation and breaches of workers’ rights and have no idea who to turn to for recourse.

That’s why this little news report sticks out. 41 unionised workers got a ruling for a built-in annual wage increase of 2.5%, or $50 (more than 2.5%) if they earned less than $2,000 – less than the 5% initially sought, but within the NWC guidelines.

NTUC’s Patrick Tay, who is also MP for Nee Soon GRC, shared that his legal arm fought four cases in court last year. One was even for PMEs, who are not even normally represented by unions. When the Industrial Relations Act is amended to give PMEs union representation in the future, you can bet that Patrick Tay’s team will start to get really busy.

Until then, the best thing to do is spread that this union membership thing isn’t just for discounts. If all else fails you can still sue your union.


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