SINGAPORE - Singapore's largest property agency is setting up a new platform to promote the welfare of its sales agents and enable their issues and grievances to be heard.
PropNex, which has close to 10,000 agents, on Thursday (Oct 7) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union (Siseu) to set up the platform, dubbed PropNex Real Estate Salespersons Chapter - Agents' Voice Matters.
The move follows a report by The Straits Times in September that the hot property market has sparked a recruitment war among real estate agencies and saw some of them dangling cash incentives to lure agents, while others slapped them with hefty fines for leaving.
Although the PropNex chapter will be set up by the company, it will be run by a committee of property agents and serve like a union for the self-employed salespersons.
Through membership in this chapter, its agents can raise their concerns to management, focus deeper on the industry's best practices, aim for fair terms and conditions of employment and raise professionalism.
A committee will be set up within the PropNex chapter and work with Siseu and the company's management to ensure that the firm provides fair contractual terms in the engagement of agents, takes care of their welfare and puts in place best practices.
PropNex will also adopt applicable guidelines issued by the Tripartite Partners - National Trades Union Congress, the Ministry of Manpower (Singapore) and the Singapore National Employers Federation.
The firm is setting aside $500,000 to subsidise 40 per cent of the cost for its agents to join the PropNex chapter. That means a PropNex agent needs to pay only $70 of the $117 annual membership fee. The agents will also receive training credits of up to $500 and benefit from free group insurance coverage of up to $40,000.
NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, who was guest of honour at the Facebook live broadcast of the MOU signing ceremony, applauded PropNex for taking the initiative to champion the cause of its self-employed agents.
"This is important in Singapore as we have about 200,000 self-employed persons and we think that this will continue to grow, given the new economy and new digital possibilities that are going to define the future economy," said Mr Ng.
NTUC started looking into the welfare of self-employed some six to seven years ago and set up NTUC U FSE unit to provide support for freelancers and the self-employed, who are not protected under the Employment Act.
Property agents have complained about unfair practices, such as fines for leaving their agencies that could amount to over $4,000, to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA). The agents felt that the penalties were too harsh even though they were aware there would be clawbacks under agreements they had signed upon joining.
Responding to ST's queries last month, CEA said it is not empowered under the Estate Agents Act to intervene in contractual matters between agents and agencies, and encouraged all agents "to work with their current agencies to resolve any outstanding issues before submitting their applications to switch agencies".
Mr Adam Wang, president of Singapore Estate Agents Association (SEAA), said SEAA was set up to advocate the interest of real estate agencies and salespersons, but it is not in a position to help them mediate contractual issues.
The property agents had told ST that they felt helpless as they were self-employed and had no platform to raise issues or air grievances.
Acknowledging the vital role property agents play in the real estate sector, Mr Ismail Gafoor, chief executive of PropNex Realty, said it is unfortunate that real estate salespersons, who are considered self-employed, are not protected by any organisation or association, and "often their plight or interests are not heard".
"Being the market leader and in reaching the 10,000-salespersons mark, (PropNex believes) it is timely now for this partnership with Siseu so as to strengthen PropNex's offering as a fair and progressive real estate agency as we adopt fair recruitment and best practices within the industry when contracting with salespersons and establishing a dispute resolution mechanism for salespersons," he said.