The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) launched a year-long engagement exercise on Thursday (August 11) with the aim of understanding the concerns, priorities and aspirations of workers, and how NTUC can support them in their working lives.
NTUC plans to reach out to at least 20,000 in Singapore of all ages and sectors, including white-collar and blue-collar workers, to hear their views around work and refresh the compact with workers in the exercise called #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, it said in a media release.
The conversations are expected to reveal what will help workers succeed in their careers, what assurances they need across life stages and what protections need to be put in place for the more vulnerable segments of workers, NTUC said. With this information, NTUC said it will put forward recommendations with a view of instituting change.
NTUC added that the conversations will build on its existing efforts to engage workers to understand and champion their needs, including the recent professionals, managers and executives (PME) task force and the newly launched youth task force.
A pre-launch survey carried out by NTUC of 1,000 working people in Singapore in June showed that people’s top three concerns were the lack of career progression, lack of bargaining power to negotiate for better employment terms and lack of work-life balance.
In a letter addressed to all workers in Singapore, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng spelled out his vision of a future of work that NTUC wants to champion for workers, with workers playing a part as well.
Ng made a rallying call to all workers in Singapore, inviting them to participate in the conversations to help NTUC understand the “concerns, priorities and aspirations” of workers.
“Our ultimate goal is simple. To ensure that workers have jobs that make them proud. To help secure workers’ livelihoods. To provide workers a better future with better jobs and better lives,” he said.
UNCERTAIN WORLD, CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS AND WORKFORCE PROFILE
The need for these conversations at this juncture is driven by an uncertain world, changing demographics and workforce profile, and shifting aspirations, NTUC said. Smaller families and an ageing population have new needs, it added.
Speaking to the media during a briefing ahead of the launch, Ng gave the example of a 45-year-old employee who has aged parents and young children to take care of.
One option for the employee is having flexible work arrangements in the form of a four-day week with compromises in career progression and pay, he said.
This could afford such employees work-life harmony with the space to carry out other duties, he added.
“All these things are on the table, but nobody has actually come together to put in concrete measures.”
However, he acknowledged that it will be a “very difficult” conversation as while employees are concerned about being burnt out and stretched thin from their multiple roles, employers will worry about productivity.
“So how do we bring this together hopefully in the next 12 months and innovate and see whether we can put in more measures to try out?” he asked.
“It will involve all of us putting in our best thinking, best efforts and at some level, some compromises to see how we want to forge a worker’s compact forward.”
Ng also addressed the changing work environment.
“In the job space, we think that there will likely be greater polarisation… that can potentially widen income inequality if we do not take active measures as a labour movement to champion the interests of the working people,” he said.
He gave the example of a PME in a fast-food chain earning S$3,000 monthly and a manager in the Central Business District earning a five or six-figure sum.
He noted that there are many manifestations of two-tier economies in other countries, with the haves and have-nots.
“NTUC believes this is not a good thing to have in our society because if not properly managed, this will really lead to a fray in our social compact, and what it means to be a Singaporean in a successful Singapore,” he said.
HEARING VIEWS FROM A WIDE SPECTRUM OF SINGAPOREANS
The conversations will take a three-phase approach, with the first one involving engaging the public to hear their views on the compact with workers.
The second phase will involve organising a series of policy workshops with tripartite partners, institutions of higher learning, civic society organisations, human resource practitioners and others “to crystalise recommendations and concrete suggestions on how the workers compact can be strengthened”, NTUC said.
In the third phase, NTUC will look at surfacing findings from earlier phases and release recommendations by mid-2023, and entails working with 4G leaders and government policymakers through Forward Singapore.
“Through #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, NTUC will ensure that our workers’ voices are heard. We aim to put forth valuable feedback and useful recommendations that will shape policies with workers’ interests at its core. After all, workers are at the heart of our nation’s progress,” Ng said.