WhyItMatters

Uphold rights for contract staff

Bosses should extend paid leave to contract workers who have been with them for at least three months, said new guidelines released on Monday by the Manpower Ministry, labour movement and Singapore National Employers Federation.

With the number of people choosing or forced to work on a contract basis set to grow, the issue of benefits can only gain traction.

Currently, some workers are on three-month contracts with one-week breaks between them, and some employers take advantage of this by not offering them leave.

Depending on the arrangement, they may not get paid for the week that they do not work.

The guidelines say such contract workers should be entitled to leave days, if they did not take more than a month's break in between the minimum period of three months. Bosses should regard contracts renewed within a month as continuous.

It is a move that will benefit 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce, or 202,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents employed on term contracts, based on last year's figures.

If adhered to, the guidelines can help stamp out errant leave practices, said Mr Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

In a strongly worded Facebook post on Monday, Mr Zainal said that the guidelines can "close the loophole where fixed-term employees can be short-changed by unscrupulous employers who deliberately break their contracts to deny them of their statutory employment benefits".

He also suggested that the guidelines be legislated "if moral suasion is not achieved".

Besides leave benefits, the tripartite partners also said that it is a good practice for both employers and employees to keep to the notice period for early termination in the contract.

While the guidelines currently serve but a small part of the workforce, they are the first step - and just the first step - in granting better protection for the growing body of freelancers and contract workers in the economy.

Aw Cheng Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2016, with the headline 'Uphold rights for contract staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe