The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is the sole national trade union centre in Singapore that is affiliated with 60 trade unions and 1 taxi association. The membership is open to anyone age 16 and older, except personnel from Singapore Police Force, Singapore Prisons, Auxiliary Police bodies, foreign domestic workers and full-time students. For my family, the membership is definitely worth it; in fact, it pays for itself. Here’s what you get by paying their annual membership fee of $117:
- Workplace Benefits – As a union member, you get workplace advisory services, free legal clinics, subsidised professional courses and assistance in job placement and training. As a PME (professionals, managers, and executives), you may qualify for tripartite mediation for employment disputes.
- LinkPoints and the Plus! Programme – This is one of the largest loyalty programmes in Singapore. LinkPoints can be used to offset purchases at Fairprice (150 LinkPoints = $1) or redeem for rewards, such as dining and shopping vouchers. I can usually redeem at least 8 dining vouchers a year just by using my card to pay for utilities and groceries. You technically don’t have to be a NTUC member to enroll in the programme (you can join for a $10 fee), but as a union member, you are automatically enrolled FOC. If you have the Plus! Debit or Credit Card, you get additional perks, such as 5% or 9% off at Fairprice, 5% off at Unity, and up to 18.3% fuel savings at Esso. In addition, there is a NTUC Plus! Visa Card SG50 promotion right now where you can get 1% interest per year and a 10% rebate at Fairprice. (Being a NTUC member does not require that you have a Visa card, but only NTUC members can apply for the card and enjoy its privileges.)
- Earn Dividends with Shares in NTUC Fairprice – Only NTUC members can purchase shares at NTUC Fairprice for $1 a share. This is something that you can opt to do that I would highly recommend if you shop at Fairprice. Each time you make purchases at Fairprice, not only will you earn LinkPoints, but you also will accumulate Cash Rebates for spending $20 or more. The rebate plus dividend is distributed annually based on purchases of up to $6000 per financial year. This is where my family’s membership pays for itself. I usually get a rebate of $120, which barely covers the annual fee, yet I also get to enjoy the many perks and privileges the union membership offers. My favourites, of course, are the 9% savings at Fairprice and the LinkPoints which I redeem for vouchers and to offset purchases at Fairprice.
- Member benefits and privileges – The member benefits are in the following categories: Health, Lifestyle, Retail, Service, and F&B. With the exception of discounts at NTUC Foodfare, personally, I find that many of the member benefits (e.g., 15% off at specific restaurants, %10 off tickets, etc.) are not that great, as they are usually small discounts to fairly expensive places. I usually can find better deals on my own, directly through the merchant, or through other “loyalty programmes” (e.g., Singtel Rewards, credit card promotions). Though, every now and then, NTUC will have a pretty good 1-for-1 or 30-50% off deal… but the membership just for these benefits alone, is definitely not worth it.
- Interest Groups – NTUC has several community interest groups, such as Young NTUC, U Family, U Sports, and U Live. These groups hold many free/subsidised events, workshops, and activities. Many of the events are not just for professional development but also for personal development. Additionally, ever year, NTUC will make May Day into a big celebration. This year, it is held at Universal Studios with tickets at a subsidised rate of just $10.
- Sign Up Premium – If you sign up through their website or at one of their roadshows, NTUC usually offers a free premium if you make an upfront payment of at least 3 months.
- NTUC Gift Group Insurance – As part of your membership fee, you are covered through this group insurance policy against death and total & permanent disability (TPD) of up to S$30,000 so long as you are age 65 and below regardless of employment status. Union leaders are eligible for double the sum assured. Union members’ spouses below age 65 are also covered against death and TPD. Members over age 65 have the option to extend the coverage for a fee.
If you don’t shop at NTUC Fairprice, then you might not find the membership to be as useful. But just belonging to a union does have its own benefits. Last year, the percentage of Americans who were unionized reached a 97-year low, at just 11%. Yet unions were what helped Americans get shorter working days and hours, fairer wages, workplace rights, and safer workplace environments. Why are there so few Americans who are in unions? One big reason is that many are simply not allowed to unionise. Here in Singapore, we are encouraged to unionise.
Membership dues in an American union can also be very costly (one of the largest unions has their monthly dues set at 2.5 times the hourly wage rate, so if you make $12 per hour, your dues are $30 per month), but in Singapore, membership dues are just $117 per year regardless of how much you make.
Lastly, many Americans feel that their unions don’t do much to represent them, and there are no useful or tangible benefits to belonging to a union. With so many Americans living paycheck to paycheck, many feel that it just doesn’t make sense for them to forgo $30 a month for a plastic card that is essentially useless.
My perspective: As a former American, it’s nice to have the option to join a union. As a frugal person, it’s nice to have the membership fee at a reasonable price and benefits that more than make up for the fees.