Older execs may get union help on re-employment

Older professionals, executives and managers (PMEs) who are unhappy with their re-employment contracts could soon turn to unions for help.

A change in the law to let unions represent them in such disputes is being recommended by a group of officials from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

The move could help resolve workplace differences as re-employment is a common employment issue, said the work group looking at updating the Industrial Relations Act.

It was among four key recommendations the group posted on MOM's website yesterday to seek public feedback.

The Act was last updated in 2002 to allow rank-and-file unions to represent executives in three areas: unfair dismissals, disputes in retrenchment benefits and breaches in employment contracts.

Also, these unions can represent executives only as individuals and not as a group, because they do not have collective-bargaining rights.

Now, the work group is recommending that the restrictions be lifted so that blue-collar unions can also represent white-collar executives as a group.

The NTUC had lobbied for the move, arguing that the ranks of executives in the workforce will swell significantly in the future and unions must be able to represent them effectively or risk becoming irrelevant.

Earlier this week, it also announced a slew of new moves to draw more PMEs into its fold, including tying up with professional bodies and setting up centres to give career and legal advice.

In recent economic slowdowns, large numbers of PMEs were laid off and, unlike blue-collar workers, they have no union they can turn to for help in negotiating retrenchment benefits.

The SNEF said the review of the law will set clearer guidelines for employers.

"There are some quarters among PMEs who feel they are not taken care of with regard to issues such as unfair dismissals and salary arrears... So, setting minimum standards and practices would be good in making sure they are protected," said SNEF executive director Koh Juan Kiat.

But older PMEs feel the review should also cover hiring, not just re-employment.

"The law should ensure that older professionals like me have a fair shot at finding a job," said Mr Justin Ma, 63.

A master's degree holder, the retired executive who had worked in a multinational has applied for 10 full-time managerial jobs in the past one year. He has yet to land even one interview.

tohyc@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Amelia Tan

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