A Home Away From Home

Few employees can take pleasure in calling their office a home away from home. At NTUC, you can.

By Nabilah Husna A. Rahman

The air of hospitality at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is uncommon to such a large organisation. But NTUC is not like every other organisation – it upholds a people-oriented and homely environment for both its staff and members.

While the general public may associate NTUC with its more well-known fronts – namely, NTUC Income and NTUC FairPrice – the non-profit organisation also provides a variety of services for its members in the workforce. This includes offering assistance to members who bring issues like workplace disputes to the attention of the congress.

The Industrial Relations Department, in which Sharon Lim plays her role as an Industrial Relations Officer, deals with such matters.

“My work is somehow unpredictable. You won’t always know the entire background of the members’ issue, but you need to almost immediately give them advice,” the former Hospitality Management student says. “It’s very impromptu – so training in this aspect is very important.”

Handling labour concerns is not the only task the organisation undertakes. Tan Siang Yee, a Specialist in the Membership Department, not only looks into recruiting new members into the congress, but is also part of the organising committee for collaborative events.

A helping hand
Sharon’s optimism and jovial disposition are fitting traits required for an Industrial Relations Officer at NTUC.

Prior to this, she had served as a Customer Relationship Officer, handling phone calls and enquiries by members and the public. After the organisation restructured its call centre in 2005, Sharon was asked if she would be keen to take on a new role as an Industrial Relations Officer. It was an offer she readily accepted.

“I attained a joint diploma in Employment Relations with OTC institute (Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute) and SIM (Singapore Institute of Management). NTUC sent me to go for it as part of skills upgrading for my course of work,” she explains.

The training boosted her confidence in handling employment matters of NTUC’s members. “Sometimes you may meet older members, and you have to communicate to them the employment law,” she says.

Communicating bad news is the hardest part. “We have to explain to them and make them understand, manage their expectations on the items they want to claim. At the same time, we also have to try our best to help them, and work out the appeals they make.”

Sharon takes this in stride, saying her job is more rewarding than most others because of the underlying social work involved. “In NTUC, we need people who are compassionate and who have passion to help workers. If you’re coming here just for money, you can’t stay here for long. It’s a place for those who are interested in helping people,” she says.

“We have members coming to us to feedback that the company didn’t pay them the correct number of days of annual leave,” she cites. “So we talk to the company and discuss the issue with them. The employers are quite happy that we enlighten them on employment regulations. This way, we educate the employers and we can try to resolve the matter at the lowest level without having it escalate to the Ministry level.”

Joining the family
Siang Yee joined NTUC, eager to contribute to society and curious to find out more about the expansive work done by the organisation.

“I wanted to know more about NTUC’s work, like how the union helps its members during the economic downturn,” she elaborates. “My job is to not only recruit new members, but also to educate the public on the social benefits of the membership.”

Upon graduating with a diploma in Business Administration, the 29-year-old gathered one year’s experience in the workforce before furthering her studies to attain a degree in Marketing.

“In the course of work, we face a lot of challenges and my marketing background helped me to overcome the challenges and think out of the box,” says Siang Yee, who makes sure to “do things the same, but differently”, according to the unique advice she received from her superiors.

Though Siang Yee’s job does not require her to interact with NTUC’s members on a daily basis, she still gets to hear from the ground through the feedback her team receives. “They’ll compliment us and say that sometimes NTUC did help them a lot,” she enthuses. “We may have events, with members participating and enjoying themselves. Seeing that they benefit from what we’ve developed gives me a good sense of job satisfaction.”

Indeed, it is the people-centredness and nature of work in the organisation that encourages a healthy and balanced office culture. Siang Yee also notes that the large amplitude of ages ranging from fresh graduates to 60-year-olds contributes to this.

The inside scoop
A career at the NTUC gives you indispensable insights into Singaporeans and how the general economy affects them directly.

“I feel that as Singaporeans, we take things for granted,” Siang Yee says. “There are a lot of unfortunate members who were just laid off, many low-waged workers that we can help. Before I joined NTUC, I knew such things happened, but it was not so close to me.”

“If you don’t work in NTUC, you wouldn’t know what it is and how it helps people,” Sharon adds. “What people think of straight away is NTUC Income or NTUC FairPrice. They don’t know that if there are work situations, there are people who can come forward and help them. There are people who are retrenched, in a vulnerable position and are helpless – and we can help them.”

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