SINGAPORE - Unions have always championed the interests of the working class, especially blue collar workers.

However the labour movement here has also embarked on a big push to engage professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in recent years.

Now, it wants to raise the profile and effectiveness of its union leaders even more, with a new leadership group set up to guide unions in recruiting, organising and engaging PMEs.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said this at a media briefing on Wednesday, after amendments to the Industrial Relations Act in April this year allowed rank-and-file unions to represent PMEs in collective bargaining.

The new PME Resource Group, comprising representatives from NTUC and 12 industry clusters of unions had its first meeting several weeks ago. It is chaired by Mr Tay and NTUC membership director Vivek Kumar.

A total of 1,500 union leaders will also be trained in understanding the needs of PMEs by next year, beyond the 1,600 who have already undergone training, said Mr Tay.

The two U PME Centres will also broaden the range of issues workers can seek advice on, including the upcoming career support programme and Employment Claims Tribunal.

Mr Tay, who is the director of the NTUC's PME Unit and a labour MP, said that about 150 companies have already agreed to work with their union branches to expand the scope of representation to cover PMEs.

The needs of these workers are very varied, and a "mass customisation" approach is needed to serve them better, he said. "There are very diverse groups because of life stages, gender and different needs in different sectors and industries. We will have to do not just more of the same but much more of many different things."

At the event at the NTUC Centre, the labour movement also gave a report card on its efforts to help PMEs over the past four years in the areas of workplace protection, job placement and career progression.

Since 2011, about 18,000 PMEs were placed in jobs by the NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and U PME Centre. PMEs now make up half of all job seekers at e2i, Mr Tay added.

Close to 170,000 PMEs also attended training courses in areas such as skills development, leadership and information technology.

The NTUC expects over 300,000 PMEs to benefit from recent changes to labour policies such as the Employment Act and the Fair Consideration Framework.

Labour chief Chan Chun Sing also said at the briefing that although some companies have been apprehensive about the unions working closer with their PMEs, they later realise the benefits:

"The better I take care of my own PMEs, the better the chances they will stay with me, and therefore I only not only have the number of people required but also the skillsets required."

Singapore Industrial and Services Employees' Union executive commitee member Willie Ng said that a few of the more than 170 companies the union represents have already agreed to the union representing their PMEs.

This is a good move for the growing PME population, said Mr Ng. "They are still workers in a company, and sometimes they may need advice on work issues and their employment rights."