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Industrial Relations

The Industrial Relations Act regulates a trade union's functions in the relationship between employers and employees.

The Industrial Relations Act

The Industrial Relations Act is an act to provide for the regulation of the relations of employers and employees and the prevention and settlement of trade disputes by collective bargaining, conciliation, arbitration and tripartite mediation of individual disputes.

Recognition of a trade union

Before a trade union can represent its members in collective bargaining, it has to be first accorded recognition by the employer. The union recognition process is provided for in the Industrial Relations (Recognition of a Trade Union of Employees) Regulations.

Tripartite Advisory on Industrial Relations (IR) Practice

In an increasingly competitive environment, management and union must be committed to working together to overcome challenges, resolve differences amicably, and build a strong labour management relationship based on mutual trust and respect. This is a key factor towards building harmonious workplaces, strengthen tripartite collaboration and enhance Singapore economic competitiveness and social progress for the benefit of both employers and workers. The Tripartite Advisory on Industrial Relations (IR) Practice outlines the key principles and practices as a guide and reference to help all IR practitioners to achieve the above objectives.

Collective bargaining process

This collective bargaining process can be initiated by either the employer or the trade union. The party who wishes to commence negotiations for a Collective Agreement is required to serve a notice and the receiving party is required to accept the invitation to negotiate. Negotiations between the employer and the trade union should commence as early as possible.

A Collective Agreement is an agreement between an employer and the trade union on the employees’ terms and conditions of employment. The Collective Agreement is valid for a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 3 years. Once a Collective Agreement is signed, it has to be filed to the Industrial Arbitration Court for certification within one week from the date of signing.

If a Collective Agreement cannot be concluded at the employer's level, the employer or the trade union can serve a notice to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to request for conciliation assistance. The employer may write directly to MOM at mom_lrwd@mom.gov.sg and the trade union may file the notification online.

MOM will proceed to arrange a conciliation meeting within 14 days upon receipt of the notification from either party and invite the management and the union for the meeting with a view to helping both parties to resolve the collective agreement dispute amicably.

Referral of Dispute to Industrial Arbitration Court

In the event that a trade dispute cannot be resolved after conciliation at MOM and a deadlock has occurred in the negotiations, the trade dispute may then be referred to the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) for arbitration. Escalating a trade dispute to IAC for arbitration should be a last resort that is only when all attempts to reach an agreement through conciliation have failed.

More details on the requirements for filing a collective agreement, the types of disputes and the different channels for filing an application to the IAC, are available from the IAC website.

Appeal against unfair dismissal

An employee who considers that he has been dismissed without just cause or excuse can within one month of the dismissal, through his trade union, make a representation to the Minister for Manpower to be reinstated in his former employment.

Limited Representation of Employees in Executive Positions

A trade union, the majority of whose membership consists of employees in non-executive positions, which has been accorded recognition by an employer may represent any executive employee individually, for any of the following issues:

  • To make representation for an appeal against unfair dismissal.
  • To negotiate with the employer with a view to resolving any dispute relating to the payment of retrenchment benefit.
  • To negotiate with the employer with a view to resolving any dispute relating to a breach of contract of employment by the executive employee or the employer.
  • To represent the executive employee in proceedings before a Court in respect of dismissal or reinstatement of the executive employee in cases of serious disciplinary action and victimisation.
  • To negotiate with the employer with a view to resolving matters relating to the denial of re-employment on the grounds that the employee does not satisfy the re-employment eligibility criteria or that the employer is unable to find a vacancy in this establishment which is suitable for the employee, and the reasonableness of the terms and conditions of any re-employment offer made by the employers and of any employment assistance payment offered to an employee.

Employers and trade unions may discuss the representation of executives on an individual basis for limited matters making reference to the revised Tripartite Guidelines on Expanding the Scope of Limited Representation for Executives.

Collective Representation of Employees in Executive Positions

A trade union, the majority of whose membership consists of employees in non-executive positions, is allowed to represent executive employees collectively.

Employers and trade unions may discuss the representation of executives on a collective basis making reference to the Tripartite Guidelines on Extending the Scope of Union Representation for Executives. Upon agreement, employers can accord formal recognition to the trade union.

In the event of any dispute on eligibility of executive employees for collective representation, the employer or the trade union could seek conciliation assistance from the Ministry of Manpower.

An executive refers to an employee who is employed in a managerial or executive positions by his employer.