Labour movement starting to really fight for workers’ rights?

Labour movement starting to really fight for workers’ rights?

By Leong Sze Hian

PMEs can turn to unions for help?

I refer to the article “Older execs may get union help on re-employment” (Straits Times, Nov 1).

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

A group of officials from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) is recommending a change in the law to allow unions to represent the workers in dispute regarding such contracts. 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.

It also states that these unions can represent executives only as individuals and not as a group, because they do not have collective-bargaining rights. The work group is now recommending that the restrictions be lifted so that blue-collar unions can also represent white-collar executives as a group.

Labour movement’s role?

What the above shows, perhaps, is the lacking in protection of workers’ rights in our  labour laws and the role that the labour movement sees itself.

Instead of fighting to protect the rights of workers throughout a worker’s working life – what are we doing now? – Just to change the legislation to allow the union to represent PMEs in re-employment disputes.

More help only when reach 62?

Does this mean that any substantive change derived may only apply to workers when they reach age 62?

What about helping workers in general?

As one PME put it so well – “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”.

So, does it mean that workers may be no better of before they reach age 62?

With regard to the move being able to help resolve workplace differences as touted by the work group which is looking at updating the Industrial Relations Act. – I find it somewhat ironic to say this as surely resolving “workplace differences” may be a more “common employment issue” at all ages then just at age 62.

So, in a way, are we not making a big deal over a small thing, and ignoring the larger issues?

Fighting for workers’ rights?

Instead of strongly attacking the weaknesses in protection of workers’ rights in the re-employment act or for that matter the employment act – the labour movement is now only just (after decades of slumber) fighting to represent PMEs when they reach age 62?

Such is the pathetic state of our labour movement!

Poor protection of workers’ rights in re-employment act?

In this connection, I was on the opening panel with the acting Manpower Minister, Assistant Secretary-General of the NTUC and Executive Director of the SNEF, at the 2-day Conference on the Re-employment Act held at NTUC Centre about a month before the implementation of the act on 1 January 2012 – during which I raised some the following issues:

What if a worker is offered re-employment at a huge pay cut such as 50 per cent?

Since re-employment can be offered for just 6 months or a year at age 62, what happens at say 63?

If you have health problems, what happens if you are offered re-employment without the continuation of your existing medical benefits and insurance?

For those not offered re-employment, with a compensation of $4,500 to $10,000, what if they can’t get another job?

Since the CPF Life annuity payout starts at 65, what happens to those who are not offered re-employment at 62?

As I understand that about 14 per cent of HDB flat mortgages are still outstanding at age 55, what about those who bought a HDB flat after age 32 on a typical 30-year mortgage, which may still be outstanding at age 62?

Since workers with less than 3 years of employment, are not covered under “re-employment”, will some employers be less willing to employ those say from age 56 to 58?

In the past, the retirement age was just raised to 60, 62. Why not just extend the retirement age to 65 now, instead of giving employers so many options?

I would like to suggest that we recognise model employers who say offer re-employment to all workers on the same terms?

Why not have an Equal Opportunity Employment Commission like Hong Kong? Are there any countries in the world that has legislation that allows employers to cut employment terms across the board in almost any way that they like, just three years before workers’ retirement at 65?

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