Prepare now for the secret ballot coming your way

by Ben Abbott24 Feb 2015
Unions are likely to approach management this year as they take advantage of new laws that allow them to collectively represent executive employees.

Now making up a third of the entire workforce, executives have until now only been represented on an individual basis by unions on a suite of limited issues.

These included unfair dismissals, retrenchment benefits, breach of employment contract and victimisation for participating in a union.

However, companies have been warned by lawyers to prepare for new laws coming into force on 1 April this year, that will see unions approaching management to represent executives collectively as a class.

“Unlike legislative amendments which require companies to take action to comply with the law, the proposed legislative amendments in question do not require companies to take any active steps at the moment,” ATMD Bird & Bird employment specialist Seow Hui Goh told HRD Singapore.

“However, the situation can be quite dynamic. We expect more unions seeking recognition on behalf of a greater of employees,” she said.

Goh said that companies in general may choose to adopt a wait-and-see approach as they wait for the next union to come knocking on their door.

However, the firm has advised clients to ‘be prepared’ for his eventuality.

“Companies should prepare themselves for unions seeking to represent executives and consider their response in the event that a union seeks recognition to represent executives,” the firm has advised clients.

“They should also pay particular attention to which categories of executives employed by them should or should not be represented by a union.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, National Federation of Employers and the National Trade Unions Congress have been aware for some time of the growing number of executives in Singapore’s labour mix, and the need for the union movement to stay relevant by meeting the needs of these executives.

The incoming changes are designed to allow rank and file unions to collectively represent executives so companies can deal with only one union for both rank and file employees and their executive human capital.

Unions will have to win a company’s recognition to collectively represent the company’s executives even if the union has already been recognised by the company to represent its rank and file employees. 

“Recognition may be voluntarily granted by a company, or may be determined by secret ballot. A union which has not been recognised may first seek recognition to represent the rank & file before seeking to represent executives,” ATMD Bird & Bird’s Goh said in a note to her clients.

The firm notes there are categories of executives outlined in newly released guidelines who will not be permitted collective representation by unions. Primarily, these will be senior executives with decision making power.

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