May Day

Bosses need to be bolder and work with unions

Office workers cross a street during lunch hour at the central business district in Singapore, on April 27, 2016.
Office workers cross a street during lunch hour at the central business district in Singapore, on April 27, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on company bosses to be "bolder" in working with unions to improve staff welfare, and more "open-minded" in their hiring.

His remarks at the May Day Rally yesterday came as the labour movement strives to draw more professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) into its ranks.

Mr Lee pointed out that, while the unions are trying to negotiate collective agreements with companies to include PMETs, some employers remain cautious.


"I encourage employers to take courage and be bolder," he said, urging them to work more closely with the unions. "Don't believe that if you don't have the labour movement involved with the PMETs, you can deal with (them) one by one and you will have no problem."

He said that, as PMET numbers are large, problems are bound to arise from time to time. "If the PMETs feel isolated, bereft, adrift or not well represented, and they organise other movements in a chaotic way, I think you will have a much more difficult position."

Mr Lee noted the unique position that the Singapore labour movement occupies. Unlike in other countries, where it is "not so easy" to get unions and employers sitting in the same room, here, they work together, he said.

"We know we cannot just say, this year is good, I squeeze the employer; next year is bad, I expect the employer to squeeze me. We are partners together," he said.

Mr Lee also asked employers to be more "open-minded" towards hiring Singaporeans. He said: "So many towkays tell me, 'I have the business but I can't find the workers, please give me more workers'.

"But actually there are some more workers out there - what you need is the skills and the fit. And the Government is helping to train those workers to have those skills for the jobs which the companies have."

He asked bosses to take a chance on these workers, especially those who are older and changing jobs.

"Their knowledge may not be specific to the industry and company, but they have developed other useful skills," he said.

"Give them a chance, help your workers to upgrade. Then your business will do even better."

His words struck a chord with Mr Low Cheong Kee, managing director of hardware chain Home-Fix, who backed Mr Lee's call to help workers pick up skills.

Said Mr Low: "Information and communications technology is disrupting the business flow in a very traditional sector like ours. We want our rank and file to be exposed to this kind of skillsets."

He added that he would encourage his staff of 160 to pursue courses under the NTUC and Nanyang Technological University's new partnership.

"I feel it will have a positive impact on our business," he said.

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Bosses need to be bolder and work with unions'. Subscribe