When 50-year-old Chua Yong Kiang got promoted two years ago, he did not celebrate. Instead, he got suspicious.
“There was no good reason for the promotion. And, they cut my basic pay although, overall, I still got a S$50 pay increase in my gross pay,” said Chua, then a staff officer at a manufacturing company.
When he broached the subject with his management, he was told it was all part of a pay restructure that his basic pay was reduced while variables such as his work and performance allowances were increased.
Then, within a year, he, and other colleagues who were similarly promoted, was retrenched.
Said 47-year-old Raymond Lim, who was a senior engineer in the same company, “I was surprised. There were other rounds of retrenchment before this but they were all operators. This was the first time PMEs (Professionals, Managers and Executives) were being retrenched,”
Both men had worked in the company for more than 20 years – Chua for 25 years and Lim for 23.
“We discovered through the grapevine that our retrenchment package would be pro-rated. Instead of getting a full month’s pay, we would only be getting the basic pay,” said 46-year-old Goh Kay Guan who was an engineer with 23 years’ experience in the company under his belt.
“Before us, even those at the management levels received compensation based on their full pay. Why was it that it came to us, we were short-changed?”
Since the variable pay could come up to 30 per cent of their gross pay, the difference was substantial. The men approached their union for advice.
“We were worried since we didn’t have a work contract that spelt out our compensation package like the operators do,” said Lim.
Chua and Lim have been union members since they first started work. Goh joined a few years ago.
“When the economy was not very stable, friends advised me to join the union for its care benefits,” said Goh.
Union representatives stepped in to negotiate with company’s management to secure better retrenchment benefits for the men.
“The union representatives were very good. They were very firm and calm,” said Chua.
Even when things got heated, the union representatives held their ground and also referred the case to the Ministry of Manpower.
“Our management told us to take the reduced package or we might not get anything at all,” revealed Chua. “But the union told us not to sign the agreement.”
The union refuted claims that the promotions the year before had been part of a pay restructure and not a calculated move to reduce the men’s compensation package. After much discussion, the union managed to secure a compensation package for the men that included their gross pay.
“Even when they gave in, they still refused to include the allowances under our pay. They labelled it ‘miscellaneous’,” said Lim who suspects that the company may have retrenched them as a cost-cutting measure since it was still raking in profits.
Hope At Hand
Even when the matter was settled, the union continued to look out for the interests of the men. It arranged for them to attend courses at NTUC’s e2i (Employment and Employability Institute) including resume-writing, interview skills, and understanding current industry needs and economic trends. It also arranged job interviews for them.
“I am very thankful for all their help,” said Lim.
All three men have since found new employment. Lim works as a contractor for a telecommunications company, a job he found through a friend’s recommendation.
Goh is now senior technician.
“I didn’t go back to engineering because I wanted a less stressful job. To me a good work environment and good employee welfare are important,” he said.
Chua found a job as a supervising engineer that paid better than his previous job.
“After being a union member for 26 years, it is heartening to see how they came to our aid and supported us. I really appreciate how they remained firm even under pressure and stood by us all the way,” said Chua.
“It is important to be a union member. There are a lot of benefits.”
This article first appeals on NTUC website with the title “United We Stand”