The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill (‘IRAB’), which seeks to amend the Industrial Relations Act (‘IRA’), was introduced to Parliament on 3 November 2014. The amendments are due to come into force on 1 April 2015 and are designed to respond to the changing demographic of the Singapore workforce, which includes greater numbers of professionals, managers and executives than ever before.

Summary

The main changes to the current legislative framework will be to allow for rank and file trade unions to represent executive employees on a collective basis and on a greater number of individual matters.

Background

Under the current legislation, executive employees are not eligible for collective representation by the trade unions and are restricted to representation on an individual basis in relation to retrenchment benefits and appeals against wrongful dismissal only. This approach was based on the thinking that the functions and responsibilities held by executive employees made them unsuitable for collective representation as their positions were often in conflict with those of rank and file employees.

The Amendments: Wide, But Not Too Wide

The IRAB recognises that as the number of professional, managers and executive level employees in the workforce increase, it is no longer sustainable for such large numbers of employees to be excluded from collective representation. In addition to collective representation, individual representation will also be widened to include re-employment disputes.

However, senior management and specific categories of executives (eg, executive employees with access to confidential information, including in-house legal counsel) with substantive managerial responsibilities will be statutorily excluded from enjoying collective representation.

Further, the IRA will be amended so that it is not an offence for employers to require that an employee is not a member of a trade union as a pre condition to appointment or promotion to an executive level position.

Professionals, Managers & Executives

Once the new rules come into play, we anticipate an increase in the number of requests for recognition made by trade unions in relation to professional, managerial and executive level employees. Understanding the key concerns of these employees, which may be considerably different to those of rank and file employees both in nature and approach, will be an important first step for employers.

Interestingly, the Guidelines issued by the Tripartite Workgroup, which was formed in 2013 to review and update the Industrial Relations Act, provide that employers and unions may mutually agree to further determine the eligibility of the executive employees by using their salary levels and/or the proportion of executives within the organisation as a parameter for eligibility. With such varied salaries and numbers across industries, it remains to be seen how far the trade unions will seek to cast their representation net.