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Workers, firms joining NTUC at faster rate

The unionisation rate of Singapore’s resident workforce has grown by 4 percentage points from 2009 to 27 per cent last year.

SINGAPORE: Workers and firms are joining the labour movement at a faster rate, with the unionisation rate of Singapore’s resident workforce growing an estimated 4 percentage points from 2009 to 27 per cent last year.

In contrast, the rate grew only 1 percentage point from 2005 to 2009, said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) on Thursday (Aug 21). Total union membership rose to 830,000 last year, up from 770,000 the year before. Professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) account for 29,000 of the 60,000 new union members and make up 235,000 of all union members today.

NTUC also attracted 95 new firms – the highest number in a single year over the past decade. The labour movement, which usually attracts about half that number every year, has about 1,500 unionised firms today.

Speaking to the press before the U Summit 2014 at Resorts World Sentosa, where the labour movement presented 32 awards recognising efforts to promote strong labour-management relationships, NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said the movement is keeping to its goal of having one million members by next year. “We will need breakthrough ideas, something which we are now currently discussing.”

Half of the 170,000 more members needed to hit the one million mark are expected to come from PMEs, said NTUC Membership Council secretary Vivek Kumar. To attract them into their fold, the labour movement is now discussing how to attract members from two groups – non-unionised PMEs in professional associations and unionised firms.

Union membership at these unionised firms, apart from those in industries such as shipyard and petrochemical, are pretty low at about 50 to 60 per cent, said Ms Cham. This is because many PMEs perceive NTUC as only for rank-and-file workers, “an image that NTUC will strive to change”.

For PMEs at professional associations, they are drawn to events that provide social networking and career progression, said Mr Vivek. Currently, NTUC collaborates with professional bodies such as the Institution of Engineers, Singapore and the Singapore Human Resources Institute through the U Associate programme to hold talks and training, exposing them to new skills and advice from business leaders.

NTUC wants to increase the number of professional bodies under this programme from nine to 20 by next year, said Mr Vivek. “We think there are at least another 100,000 to 150,000 PMEs out there who may not be in a unionised branch or who may be in a profession of their own, (thus) their professional associations can get them associated to us,” said Mr Vivek.

In his closing remarks at the U Summit, NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say noted the rising unionisation rates and said the labour movement is in good shape. Apart from blue-collar workers and PMEs, freelancers and professional golfers have joined the movement, he said. “We are very sure we can get the one million (members) we aimed for,” he added.

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