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Patrick Tay's behind-the-scenes updates on the Employment Act enhancements

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay's latest blog post on the enhancements to the Employment Act and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it. 

The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2018, introduced in Parliament in October, will be read for a second time next month. The inclusion of all professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) under the Employment Act is a watershed moment for Singapore’s labour legislation and extends key statutory benefits to an additional 430,000 workers.

The Employment Act was first enacted in 1968 to bring within its scope, a wider pool of workers other than those employed in managerial, executive and certain excluded categories, to create more stable labour conditions. Back then, the workforce consisted a larger proportion of rank and file workers. Today, with all PMEs included under the Act, we have come a long way to keep pace with changes in the employment landscape.

Tripartite review, consultation and negotiation

The Employment Act, and revisions thereof, are outcomes of continuous review, consultation and negotiation among the tripartite partners to strike a balance among differing tripartite interests.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is concerned about labour force participation, job creation and labour market rigidity. The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) represents employers’ concerns of rising business costs, compliance and operational burdens. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) represents workers’ concerns on the protection of their employment rights, welfare and employment conditions.

So, how did the tripartite partners engage in this balancing exercise? Let me take you behind the scenes.

After the last review of the Act in 2012, MOM, SNEF and NTUC have been keeping tabs on the issues and feedback on the Act. I made calls in and out of Parliament to review the Act, considering a changing workforce profile, rising median wages and issues that needed redress. Formally, a Tripartite Workgroup was set up in early 2017 to review the Act to ensure reasonable labour standards for workers while balancing employers’ need to stay competitive to create good jobs for workers.

Following consultations with our constituents, NTUC and SNEF tabled our recommendations to the Tripartite Workgroup. At NTUC, we consulted our affiliated unions and union leaders extensively on issues encountered by union members and workers arising from the provisions (or lack thereof) in the Act and proposed amendments to address these issues.

It was not unusual for our tripartite discussions to get heated as we lobbied and argued strongly for our respective causes. Striking a balance was not easy. The tripartite partners had to give serious consideration to the recommendations put forth, negotiate and arrive at tripartite-negotiated outcomes. This is the spirit of tripartism. I share some of the more memorable tripartite-negotiated outcomes below:

Spirit of tripartism

The tripartite-negotiated outcomes shared above constituted only a snapshot of the myriad of issues considered and negotiated in the review of the Act. The Bill is an example of how our spirit of tripartism has enabled us to reach consensus on potentially divisive matters.

In many countries, amendments to the labour laws are controversial and agonising affairs, often resulting in industrial action or greater polarisation between the government, business and labour.

This entire tripartite-effort aptly embodies our mature industrial relations system and responsible employers and trade unions that can look beyond their narrow interest to discuss issues objectively and reach agreement for everyone’s benefit. We must continue with this pro-active approach to ensure that our labour legislation stay current and relevant in a maturing economy and workforce.

The Employment Bill 2018 – 12 labour law enhancements for workers

More protection for workers

1. All employees (except public servants, domestic workers and seafarers) will be entitled to key benefits under the Act:

a) Minimum 7 days of paid annual leave;b) 11 paid public holidays;c) 14 days of paid sick leave;d) 60 days of paid hospitalisation leave;e) Timely payment of salary; andf) Protection against wrongful dismissal.

This means 430,000 more workers (made up of PMEs earning above $4500 per month) will benefit.

Protection for vulnerable workers

2. Salary cap in Part IV raised from $2,500 to $2,600 a month. This means 100,000 more workers will be protected as non-workmen (i.e. rank and file workers holding office jobs).

3. Increasing the overtime rate payable for non-workmen by raising the salary cap for overtime pay from $2,250 to $2,600.

Employees’ consent required for deductions by employers

4. Employees’ written consent is required before deductions are made from their salary for accommodation or amenities supplied by the employer.

Certification of paid sick leave and hospitalisation leave

5. Any registered medical practitioner can certify an employee’s entitlement to paid sick leave.

6. Beyond acute hospitals, community hospitals, will also be considered an approved hospital and accepted for paid hospitalisation leave.

7. Employers are required to pay for the medical consultation fees incurred in obtaining a medical certificate (MC) from a government doctor or a company-appointed doctor in full, as long as the MC results in at least one day of paid sick leave.

Clarity on Section 18A transfers

8. FAQs to provide greater clarity on the transfer of employees in business restructuring.

Access to recourse for wrongful dismissal

9. The adjudication of wrongful dismissal claims will be transferred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT), serving as a one-stop service for employees for salary-related and wrongful dismissal claims.

10. Tripartite guidelines/FAQs to provide clarity on what amounts to wrongful dismissals. The ECT and the High Court are to have regard to the tripartite guidelines when deciding any claim involving wrongful dismissal.

Retrenchment information

11. Employers are to furnish information on retrenchment of any employee, if required to do so by the Commissioner of Labour.

Powers to make regulations

12. The Manpower Minister is empowered to make regulations to regulate the conduct of an employer to protect the wellbeing of the employee.

This blog post was first published by NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay on 24 October 2018.

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