Having served about 13 years as Deputy General Secretary and later took over as General Secretary of the SIEU in January 2013 to present, Luke is now a member of the NTUC Central Committee — the highest decision-making body of Singapore’s Labour movement.
According to him, the Labour Movement is not the same as it was when he first started. He opines that unions have been going through an ‘evolution’ — contemporary socio-political problems have compelled unions to transform to better serve their members’ needs.
He adds that the labour movement is a voice for workers and members, and members must be organized and have strength in numbers to voice concerns as one.
COVID-19 Pandemic: a crucial period for unions to step up
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great economic instability, and Luke believes that this is a crucial period for good leadership within unions to step up and serve members when they need help the most.
Union membership fees are typically priced at $9 per month. Why $9? And not $90? Luke shares that union membership fees are a token amount which shows the symbol of solidarity between workers rich and poor alike.
“Today I might not need it, someone might need it more; tomorrow I might need it and I hope someone would help me.”
Luke shares how union membership fees are pit together to help members tide through their own individual shares of ‘rainy days’.
Luke is particularly concerned about Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) today, in safeguarding their employment and welfare even amidst the pandemic.
As General Secretary of SIEU, Luke shares that many insurance companies in Singapore are international companies and it is often difficult to control their decisions. When Singaporeans in the insurance sector face retrenchment, it is where the important role of the union comes in — to negotiate the best deal for its members. Unions play an advisory role to their members, Luke shares. But he adds that the decision is ultimately to be made by its members and unions will stand by them to advise them in their best interest.
This union leader on negotiating a retrenchment benefit for an SIEU member
A particularly memorable experience for Luke was a time where he was negotiating a retrenchment benefit for an SIEU member. She was retrenched by her Japanese insurance company and offered a handsome six-figure retrenchment payout.
Luke believes that while it is important to keep their members’ jobs, the focus should not always be about work prospects or keeping unemployment low, but an overall consideration of all aspects. The member did not take the retrenchment too heavy to heart but considered her situation thoroughly.
She was single, nearing her 60s, and was caring for an elderly parent. She figured that continuing the high-stress job would not be in the favour of her health, should she develop any stress-related health condition years down the road. Her good spending habits were also taken into consideration.
Overall, with all points considered, accepting the retrenchment package seemed like a ‘better deal’. Luke respected her decision and went on to negotiate more favourable terms.
After accepting the retrenchment package, Luke continued to help her find a job at her request, as she wanted to keep her mind active, in a low-stress environment. She has found a job and is still in the job until today.
What can the unions do for the PMEs?
What can unions offer PMEs? Luke’s straightforward answer is collective bargaining.
He opines that once there is strength in numbers, it would be much easier for the union to strike a deal with the employer. If there is strength in numbers, it would also mean that they would likely have common problems facing them at work.
Luke also shares that the problems PMEs face today are not easy to solve.
Particularly, appraisals/evaluations are big issues many PMEs face. Certain employers take advantage of appraisals or evaluations to take advantage of their employees. Appraisals/evaluations which are worded vaguely or assigned a disproportionate weightage are common complaints from members. Some companies end up judging their workers by behaviour instead of deliverables, which is not exactly justified.
A future challenge facing unions is how to engage a workforce that is increasingly made up of PMEs. Even within PME as a broad category, not all PMEs are the same. Luke feels that PMEs should be given proper recognition for them to seek protection from unions. Unions are critical in engaging companies to debate their practices and policies in order to create progressive practices and better policies which will benefit workers and employers alike.
*Cover image via