Do more to protect higher-skilled workers: NTUC

The labour movement is calling for better protection for higher- skilled workers, amid concerns that more professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) will be laid off this year due to the slowing economy.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said yesterday that unions, employers and the Government should work together to set guidelines for retrenchments.

"There are no fixed benchmarks in terms of notice periods, quantum of retrenchment benefits as well as good practices in carrying out layoffs," Mr Tay told reporters after a conference for human resource professionals.

"We have to make even more concerted and resolute efforts, particularly in this uncertain year."

He made a similar point in a blog post published yesterday.

Earlier this month, Japanese online retailer Rakuten and media company Yahoo axed a number of staff. Foreign bank Barclays also cut about 70 jobs here last month.

While the NTUC can help workers in unionised companies negotiate retrenchment packages based on collective agreements and escalate matters to the Manpower Ministry and the Industrial Arbitration Court if necessary, workers who are not union members do not receive such protection.

PMEs in smaller companies may also be more vulnerable than those in multinationals which have established global practices.

In his blog post, Mr Tay wrote: "Many PMEs still share with me that they do not know that they can be a union member or that a union can really in fact help them or can collectively represent or bargain for them."

There are now around 738,200 PMEs among Singapore citizens and permanent residents here, or more than one in three of the local workforce. This is nearly 100,000 more than in 2014, although some jobs have since become reclassified as PME positions.

Mr Tay also told reporters that the Employment Claims Tribunal - which was expected to be set up by next month - is likely to start instead in the second half of the year, as there are other Bills in the queue to be read in Parliament.

At yesterday's conference, organisers Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) and consultancy firm Willis Towers Watson signed an agreement to set up a Centre of Excellence to help train and certify SHRI trainers in compensation and benefits practices.

It will allow small and medium- sized companies that do not have such in-house expertise to approach the trainers for help.

Given the lean manpower conditions now, human resource professionals "have a critical role to play in sustaining business success and competitiveness in the long run", SHRI president Erman Tan said at the event at Concorde Hotel.

Mr Dhritiman Chakrabarti, Willis Towers Watson's managing director for rewards, talent and communication in Asia-Pacific, believes companies will face more pressure to manage their costs.

"Each industry will need to think about which skills are going to be value-adding," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'Do more to protect higher-skilled workers: NTUC'. Print Edition | Subscribe