I grew up with NTUC all around me – NTUC FairPrice, NTUC Income and even read NTUC Lifestyle Magazine with the latest fruit juice advertisements. But I did not sign up for NTUC membership until way into my adult life.
Why I refused to pay $9 a month for NTUC membership
I refused to pay $9 a month for NTUC membership for many years even after I started working full time. It was inconceivable to me, at that point in time, that the $117 annual NTUC membership fee (you pay $18 in December) that couldn’t be waived no matter how much you troll the call centre operator, unlike credit card annual fees.
The Black NTUC Card was good enough then
When I moved out and finally had to purchase my own groceries on a regular basis from NTUC FairPrice, I signed up for the black OCBC NTUC Link card to earn Linkpoints.
Note that the black NTUC card doesn’t mean you’re a member. It only means you can earn Linkpoints. NTUC members are those who pay $9 a month and have the WHITE NTUC card.
I tried calculating how I could “earn back” the $9/month, but I don’t really do staycations and eat at restaurants regularly. Besides, I didn’t have to be an NTUC member with a white card to earn Linkpoints with my black card.
Why did I pay $9 for NTUC membership?
It was only when I enrolled my first son in My First Skool that I was informed I could get $8 back in Linkpoints. Ah not bad, I thought. For just $1 extra a month, I can slowly figure out how to make my white NTUC card membership hua suan (worth it).
I loved waving my white NTUC card on a regular basis to buy $1.40 Foodfare breakfast sets (which are now $1.80 but still cheaper than any other place), 1-for-1 discounts and other privileges here and there.
Why should I have signed up for NTUC membership earlier?
I received my NTUC membership the month after I was asked to leave my ex-company (an SME struggling with changing consumer tastes and fiercely competitive business environment with low margins). It was a shock when I received the directive to leave just 2 weeks after my maternity leave had ended.
It is a bit wasted, because if I were an NTUC member earlier, I could have asked for tripartite meditation (at that point of time) with MOM and NTUC, where I could have possibly bargained for a better deal upon leaving the company.
But no, I was pretty much alone, and thought I was doing everyone a favour by resigning (which is the worst thing to do under duress as it absolves the company of any responsibility).
To be fair, the company paid my salary on time and was kind enough to provide a positive testimonial so I could look for my next job, that didn’t arrive till a few months and hundreds of job applications later.
Perks of NTUC membership
My new job was in a unionised organisation (which means there is a registered union for staff). We have a Collective Agreement which states staff benefits, agreements between union and our HR on flexi-work etc and other work-related issues.
So I managed, for the first time in my life, to get on a flexi-work arrangement while working full time. I could leave slightly earlier to fetch the kids from school without stressing if a train breakdown would leave them stranded with a lone tired teacher after 7pm.
The union also provided for a gym (yeah a gym!), yearly $20-$30 FairPrice vouchers and discounts off certain tickets/hotels. But it was the flexi-work arrangement that I’m most happy with (also must say that my bosses are very supportive and understanding of my childcare needs).
On top of that, because I’m a union member AND a FairPrice member, once a year I’d receive some dividends and rebates from FairPrice. Depending on how much you spend at FairPrice, you can get back over a hundred dollars.
I don’t have my dividend statement so I’m reposting another blogger’s statement. Her total yearly dividend+rebate payable of $118+ was enough to cover membership fee of $117 a year.
I also have a yearly $250 union training assistance programme (UTAP) fund to use for courses to learn new skills, but I just haven’t gotten round to using it yet, so I wasted like 2 years of this fund *sob*
There’s also a group insurance called NTUC GIFT that NTUC members can tap on if they join the union. So let’s say you already pay $9 a month as an NTUC member, you can call NTUC to find out which union you belong to and sign up to join the union (fees are already included in NTUC membership).
Do this before anything nasty happens!
Should I sign up for NTUC membership even if I don’t have a union?
If your company recognises a union, you will be considered an Ordinary Member of the union and are usually covered by a Collective Agreement (which is a legal document on workplace issues) or a Memorandum of Understanding between your employer and union.
But if your company doesn’t have a union or recognise any union, you can still join a union as a General Branch member.
This means you’re a union member but with limited benefits (see table above) compared to Ordinary Branch members. How do you know which union to join? Contact NTUC and they will tell you.
You still get UTAP, NTUC GIFT etc but you can’t use the union to negotiate directly with your employer (although you can try approaching the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management), where union members get priority same-day advice.
What are other perks of joining a union?
Well you get discounts for courses, events, seminars (usually free or half price), and if you’re retrenched, the union may disburse vouchers to help you pay for groceries (especially for low income).
Low income members get study awards/bursaries for their kids, grocery discount vouchers and other financial assistance under the NTUC U Care Fund to help them with cost of living.
Staff (even PMEs) facing retrenchment get support to negotiate for better retrenchment payouts (depending on agreement between union and company) and help to find new jobs.
Basically there’s someone to advise you on what you can do if you face job difficulties, which I really wish I had while I was in my previous job.
But life is such that you just have to learn from mistakes, and share your experiences so that other people can know that although $9 a month may seem like quite a bit, there are many intangible things I mentioned above that you can’t get if you had decided to spend your $9 elsewhere.
Still, do your own research and make an informed decision before you sign up for NTUC membership, because it still has to be relevant to what you need.
Also published on Medium.