How NTUC is putting the “human” back in Human Resources

February 20, 201611:55 pm508 views

Most people think of unions as anti-employer and anti-HR, and the measure of a union’s worth is only as good as its antagonistic stand against management.

In a surprising twist, the Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Chan Chun Sing, revealed in a blog post on how NTUC and its affiliates (termed the Labour Movement as a collective noun) have a unique approach towards ensuring that workers get better pay and jobs.

It is so unusual that one friend described it as putting the “human” back in Human Resources, a domain which isn’t traditionally the territory of unions (shouldn’t they be planning a strike instead?).

We Human Resources practitioners can learn a lot from what he blogged about, which I’ve distilled in 3 key points below.


1. Developing the “Trades” in NTUC

NTUC is moving beyond rank-and-file concerns to create an ecosystem where all professionals can thrive by growing their trade knowledge and industry networks.

This is evident by NTUC’s recent formalisation of 26 professional guilds to become NTUC U Associates. Members of both the guilds and NTUC benefit from the larger pool of resources.

In addition, NTUC has 25 signed Memorandums of Understanding with 1,197 SMEs (covering a total of 29,070 workers) on workplace standards such as Fair Employment Rights and workplace safety.

In contrast, why isn’t there a National Trades HR Congress to unify the various guilds and associations to develop a nationwide network of human resources?


2. Growing the pie so everyone benefits

Chan blogged about helping companies and workers to grow together, and not to fight over a slice of a shrinking pie.

“We shared with them how the unions could value add to industrial relations by mobilising workers to embrace upgrading and lifelong learning. A few weeks later, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the company’s top management had enrolled all their workers into the union and even paid for their membership, a departure from their company practice elsewhere to avoid working with any unions,” he wrote.

Instead of viewing unions as the enemy in a zero-sum game, HR practitioners should consider how to leverage on the Labour Movement as partners for training and change management, to help companies grow so everyone benefits.


3. Reinventing to stay relevant

Younger workers may not see the value in joining a union, which may only be relevant to them for a short time as they usually change jobs and professions in the course of their working lives.

The unions and Labour Movement are evolving to adapt to workplace trends of shorter employments, multiple jobs per person and increased freelancing.

Chan muses, “Are we providing new value-added services that our new generation of workers needs? If the concerns of the new generation of employees are more towards professional development, networking opportunities and employment placement, instead of collective bargaining and industrial action, then are we poised to provide these services for our workers?”

In fact, if you turn the spotlight in a similar manner towards Human Resources, how are HR practitioners relevant to organisations if:

  • hiring can be outsourced to recruitment agencies
  • firing can be executed by the head of departments
  • training can be planned by sectoral tripartite committees and initiated by the individual
  • payments can be automated

How can we HR practitioners too put the “human” back in Human Resources? Lest we, and not the unions, are the ones in danger of becoming obsolete.

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