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Unions to regroup to boost productivity

New industry clusters to set own pay hike targets and plans for training programmes

Unions to regroup to boost productivity

Women working out during a mass exercise at the Esplanade Park yesterday as part of an event organised by the NTUC to mark International Women's Day. -- PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

The labour movement is regrouping its 61 unions into key industry clusters, so they can better help workers boost their productivity - and ultimately, raise their wages.

The move, which is in line with a national push for economic restructuring, will allow unions to come up with training and other programmes that are customised to the needs of workers and companies in different industries.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Lim Swee Say announced the plan yesterday, a day after the Budget debate ended. 'In order for us to achieve a broad-based real wage increase, our reach must be as wide as possible,' he said on the sidelines of an International Women's Day event.

The new clusters, he said, will set individual targets for wage increases and make their own plans that will help low-income earners, women and mature workers vulnerable to economic restructuring.

NTUC hopes to do this within the next three months, and is looking to identify 10 to 12 clusters. Mr Lim said they will likely include manufacturing and services sectors, as well as those serving domestic and export markets.

During the Budget debate, Mr Lim had stressed the necessity of restructuring Singapore's economy to maintain its competitiveness.

The move marks a significant shift for the union movement, which has 670,000 members.

While its unions are now grouped into 11 industry clusters, these are primarily aimed at promoting exchanges between unionists, and training and upgrading schemes are usually NTUC-wide.

Under the new grouping, however, employers and government officials will be brought on board so that union leaders can work out industry-specific plans with them.

'Tripartite partnership will be strengthened at the individual cluster level,' said Mr Lim.

Mr Andy Lim, president of the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers' Union which represents 83,000 workers, said the regrouping will help unions like his raise productivity and training standards more effectively.

'The key performance indicators for the services sector are different from manufacturing,' he said. 'For example, how do we measure good service?'

Union leader Ramanathan Doraisamy from the United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries also welcomed the prospect of working with employers and government officials within the manufacturing cluster.

'If we can train workers for jobs that require higher skills and better pay within a cluster, it will be a big boost,' he said.

Workers like Ms Shirley Lam, 51, hope to benefit from the change. The part-time kindergarten teacher, who is looking for a full-time job in the health-care sector, said: 'It will be good if unions can help mature workers like me identify opportunities across sectors, and help us make the switch.'

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