Singapore has recently passed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act, which broaden the options available for representation of executives in the workplace to allow for representation by "rank-and-file" trade unions. The Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2015 (the "Amendment Act") came into force on April 1, 2015. It amends the Industrial Relations Act in two main ways.
First, the amendments allow trade unions that predominately represent non-executive employees (commonly known as "rank-and-file" trade unions) to represent executive employees on a collective basis. This excludes executive employees with specific responsibilities where conflicts of interest may arise, such as executives with substantial responsibilities for hiring and firing. Previously, executives could not be collectively represented by "rank-and-file" unions.
Second, the amendments extend the scope of the areas in which such "rank-and-file" trade unions can represent executive employees on an individual basis to include matters concerning re-employment. Previously, "rank-and-file" unions could represent executives only on an individual basis in certain limited areas. The expansion implemented by the Amendment Act provides executives with an additional and less costly alternative for resolving re-employment matters, by settling re-employment disputes through union and management negotiations.
According to the Second Reading Speech, the amendments were intended to better meet the needs of professionals, managers, and executives, which now form more than 30 percent of the Singaporean workforce. The amendments were also directed toward helping "employers and unions to work together to more effectively engage this growing group of employees" and facilitate "harmonious labor-management relations."
Based on the amendments, it is likely that trade unions will seek recognition in relation to executive employees, particularly where such employees constitute a significant proportion of the workforce. However, the collective agreements governing "rank-and-file" employees typically include provisions that may not necessarily be entirely applicable or appropriate in relation to executive employees. These provisions often govern overtime hours, minimum salaries, and the negotiation of increments and annual wage supplements. As such, employers that are engaging with unions that are also representing executives on a collective basis need to carefully consider the interests and concerns of such executive employees.