Guidelines have been drawn up to help employers and unions prepare for a change in the law to allow more union representation of white-collar workers.
But the tripartite committee which made the seven-page recommendations deliberately kept some key criteria flexible, to give unions and firms the space to tailor their policies to meet the different needs of executives.
The guidelines offer two broad benchmarks - salary levels and proportion of executive staff - for unions and firms to refer to when deciding which executives can be represented as a group.
But they do not specify exact numbers.
In announcing the guidelines yesterday, the committee also recommended that senior management and staff with decision-making powers on industrial matters be excluded from union representation, to avoid a conflict of interest.
Committee member and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said: "We did not have a figure to allow them (employers and unions) to have some discussion. We don't want to be prescriptive."
She explained professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have vastly different salary ranges and needs because of the varying job functions and differences in the types of their companies.
"For example, a $4,500 (salary benchmark) in some companies can be the 80th percentile especially for some SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). But $4,500 for some of the MNCs (multinational corporations) may be just the 30th percentile," said Ms Cham, on the sidelines of an industrial relations seminar yesterday.
The guidelines were introduced in the run-up to the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act, which may be passed by the second quarter of next year.
It seeks to allow blue-collar unions to represent white-collar executives as a group, a move lobbied for by NTUC. Currently, these unions can represent executives only as individuals without collective bargaining rights.
The Act was updated in 2002 to allow rank-and-file unions to represent executives in unfair dismissals, disputes in retrenchment benefits and breaches in job contracts. The amendment will also allow unions to represent executives on re-employment issues.
Dr Robert Yap, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said companies should support the Bill as it means they will have to deal with only one union. "In certain countries, the staff are represented by two or three unions. The unions end up competing," he said.
NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say said in a speech at the seminar that the labour movement needs to stay relevant by meeting the needs of the growing number of PMEs.
"Our PMEs will face growing challenges relating to employment and employability... It is our responsibility to respond to their anxieties faster," he told some 250 government officials, employers and union leaders at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability.
This article was first published on November 27, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.