Contract workers get better terms under new standard

296 firms commit to tripartite pact covering key areas of leave, notice period and training

The 296 firms which have signed on to the tripartite agreement, committing to progressive employment practices, account for about 26,000 term contract workers in Singapore, out of a total of around 170,000.
The 296 firms which have signed on to the tripartite agreement, committing to progressive employment practices, account for about 26,000 term contract workers in Singapore, out of a total of around 170,000. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

A new standard specifying better working conditions for term contract workers has been launched after agreement between employers, unions and the Government.

Already, 296 firms have signed on, committing to progressive employment practices that go beyond what is required under the Employment Act in key areas of leave benefits, notice period and training.

Among the early adopters are OCBC Bank, DBS Bank, Coca-Cola Singapore, Singapore Press Holdings, Resorts World Sentosa and law firm Rajah & Tann.

"These (296) employers account for about 26,000, or around 15 per cent, of all term contract employees in Singapore. This is a good start, but not good enough if we want to make an impact," Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo noted at the launch yesterday.

"Many term contract employees do not enjoy leave benefits like their colleagues in regular or permanent work. Sometimes, it is because they are ignorant about their legal entitlements and were blatantly shortchanged. In other instances, employers do not recognise their past service because of breaks in their contracts."

To address this, the standard was jointly developed by the Manpower Ministry, National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation.

It is the first of five tripartite standards to be rolled out. About 10 per cent of resident employees, or about 170,000 workers, are on term contract arrangements. They may have their leave entitlements reset to the statutory minimum by the employer each time their contracts are renewed.

Coca-Cola Singapore's human resources (HR) project manager Grace Lai, who is among its 150 term contract employees, said the new standard provides "greater certainty and protection for contract workers".

"Also, the standard helps contract workers... to identify good employers that will offer them such improved employment conditions."

Together with the tripartite partners, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices is working with employers to adopt the new standard. Under the standard, employers are encouraged to treat contracts of 14 days or more, and renewed within one month of the previous contract, as continuous, and grant or accrue leave benefits based on the cumulative term of the contracts.

Employers can pro-rate annual leave, sick leave and childcare leave benefits based on the length of the term contract. For instance, an employee working for the same firm on three consecutive month-long contracts is entitled in his fourth month to benefits like two days of paid annual leave, based on seven days of paid annual leave a year.

Progressive employers will also give appropriate notice in cases of early termination or non-renewal of contract. This means "recognising (employees') cumulative length of service in deciding when to serve notice... (so that they) have the assurance that they get reasonable notice to find a new job, or notice pay", Mrs Teo said.

Coca-Cola HR director Gaurav Sharma said his firm's HR policies and practices on term contracts are already aligned with the standard.

"We recognise that in the 'new world of work', the shift towards workforce independence is inevitable as more and more employees prefer to be free agents in their own careers - choosing contract work, temporary assignments and freelance projects that interest them - fuelled by demographic changes, technological advances and evolving expectations of working life," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline Contract workers get better terms under new standard. Subscribe