NTUC to open 2 help centres for career tips and legal advice

Professionals can turn to two new centres for career tips and legal advice next year.

But these centres, to be set up by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), will give more attention to union members.

Describing the move as "positive discrimination", NTUC director Patrick Tay said yesterday they will get a "full suite of services" that includes having lawyers review their employment contracts when they get into disputes with their employers.

Non-members, on the other hand, will get "a very basic level of advice" like where to go for help, the labour MP added.

The first of the two centres for professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) will be in Jurong East and it will start running on Jan 2.

The second centre, in Shenton Way, is expected to be ready by March.

By June next year, the NTUC will also set up what it calls a "virtual centre" where PMEs can get online help. It has yet to decide on whether to provide instant online chat, but Mr Tay promised that simple queries will be replied to promptly, "maybe in seconds or minutes".

Mr Tay also said the labour movement will be looking into providing professional insurance for PMEs, similar to those that protect physiotherapists against lawsuits, or photographers who damage their expensive equipment.

No details of the insurance schemes were available.

These latest moves by NTUC are part of its broader strategy to draw more white-collar professionals into its ranks. It has more than 200,000 PMEs on its rolls, about one-fifth of the one million PMEs in the resident labour force. It plans to recruit at least one in four professionals as union members.

Mr Tay's announcements at a press conference yesterday came a fortnight after Parliament changed the Employment Act to give 300,000 PMEs who earn up to $4,500 a month more benefits, like sick leave and protection against unfair dismissal.

He also disclosed that unions, bosses and the Government have struck a tripartite deal to let blue-collar unions also represent professionals as a group.

Currently, unions cannot collectively represent both rank-and-file workers and professionals at the same time because of the potential conflict of interest. But the Industrial Relations Act is "in the course" of being amended to let them do so next year, he said.

While welcoming the move to help younger PMEs, former sales manager Peter Au said the union-run centres should not neglect older PMEs who face re-employment problems.

"These older workers will naturally turn to the Manpower Ministry and unions for help because it will be expensive to hire lawyers," said the 63-year-old, whose re-employment contract was terminated this month by his Japanese company.

tohyc@sph.com.sg