New trade union representation rights for executives: changes to the Industrial Relation Act 

The amendments to the Industrial Relations Act (“IRA”) came into effect on 1 April 2015, to provide for wider representation of professionals, managers and executives by recognised rank-and-file trade unions. This increase in executive rights extends to representation of executive employees on an individual basis, and also on a collective basis.

Representation on Individual Basis

Until last month, the scope of individual trade union representation of executive employees had been limited to the following areas:

  • unfair dismissal;
  • retrenchment benefits;
  • employment contract breaches; and
  • victimisation.

In light of the recent amendments to the IRA, the four areas mentioned above have now been expanded to include proceedings before the Commissioner of Labour on re-employment claims under the Retirement and Re-employment Act (Cap. 274A) of Singapore.

Representation on Collective Basis

In terms of collective representation rights, the amendments to the IRA now allow for collective trade union representation of executive employees in most employment matters. Having said that, matters such as promotions, internal transfers, terminations for redundancy and certain dismissals or representations, which are of the employers prerogative, remain excluded from the scope of collective trade union representation.

Recognising the need of an organisation to maintain and ensure efficiency of its business operations, the right to collective representation does not extend to certain classes of executive employees such as, amongst others, the following: 

  • persons employed in senior management roles or having decision-making powers in industrial matters;
  • persons having access to confidential information concerning the employer’s budget, finances or employee personal records; or
  • persons who represent the employer in the trade union negotiations of industrial matters.  

Guidance for Employers 

To assist employers in working with trade unions regarding the new, wider representation rights of executives, the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore has published two sets of Tripartite Guidelines, namely (i) the Tripartite Guidelines on Extending the Scope of Union Representation for Executives; and (ii) the Tripartite Guidelines on Expanding the Scope of Limited Representation for Executives. 

In order for a trade union to collectively represent executives, the trade union will firstly have to obtain recognition from the employer before a collective agreement can be negotiated with the employer. In view of this, employers are encouraged to prepare themselves for trade unions seeking such recognition, and should actively engage trade unions on matters relating to trade disputes and union representation. 

Depending on their individual circumstances, employers may choose to (i) continue with their existing collective agreements or memoranda of understanding, if they already have unionised employees, or (ii) choose to review and update any such existing arrangements; or (iii) negotiate separate arrangements specifically for its executive employees. 

If establishing a separate collective agreement for executives, employers should be prepared to negotiate with trade unions on the provisions of such agreements, to limit liability on issues such as long-term sickness absence and retrenchment benefits.