NTUC brings SMEs, professionals into fold

It is taking partners and associate members in 'fundamental shift' to serve wider range of workers

NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing.
NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing. PHOTO: ST FILE

The labour movement is changing the way it recruits and provides services to its members.

Currently, its members are from the 61 affiliated unions and an association of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). It will now be adding associate members and partners to its fold.

These include 200,000 members of 31 professional bodies such as the Institution of Engineers Singapore and about 70,000 workers in 3,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as Home-Fix.

The professional bodies and SMEs have inked membership and partnership agreements with the NTUC in the last few years and their numbers will grow, said NTUC secretary-general Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

While associate members do not pay union dues in the traditional "pay per month" model, they will still enjoy union services such as training on a "pay per use" basis, Mr Chan said.

These members add to the existing pool of some 900,000 NTUC members that include workers, retirees and students.


Describing the latest move as a "fundamental shift", Mr Chan said it will allow the NTUC to serve a wider range of workers.

"Some workers may not be union members but they still need services," he said. "If we have other operating models where we can serve them, they can still benefit from the programmes under the NTUC umbrella."

The move was among several new initiatives announced by the NTUC yesterday at a briefing on May Day events.

The NTUC is also planning to draw freelancers such as Uber drivers into its fold. These freelancers will get help in two areas: understanding their legal rights and in financial planning.

To help workers plan their careers, the NTUC will expand its pool of career counsellors from about 50 full-time staff today to include about 500 part-time "adjunct career coaches" in five years' time.

The number of training places that it supports will also grow from 14,000 today to 44,000 in five to eight years. More details on the NTUC's training plans are expected to be announced on May Day.

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan called the NTUC's move to expand its services "very timely and relevant".

"Singapore's demographics are changing. People are better educated, there are more PMEs than blue-collar workers and the population is ageing," said Mr Tan. "NTUC's shift is a responsible move towards society's needs."

An area that the NTUC can focus on is helping workers make mid- career switches. "Somebody has to provide the support for them and help them stay relevant," he added.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said it is in discussions with the NTUC on "some kind of collaborative framework".

"The NTUC has a slew of benefit programmes and we would like to find a way in which we could extend these benefits to workforces under SMEs," said Mr Wee.

"Traditionally, SMEs may not have been so enthusiastic about being part of unions. But, increasingly, there are SMEs that recognise the success of tripartism and are less and less closed to these ideas."

The May Day celebrations begin today with the annual May Day Dinner at the Orchid Country Club, where the NTUC will present May Day Awards to 91 individuals and companies that have contributed to the labour movement.

On Sunday, it will hold the annual May Day Rally at Downtown East. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will deliver his May Day speech.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'NTUC brings SMEs, professionals into fold'. Subscribe