Labour laws work when they balance, as best as is possible, the needs of employees and employers in a tripartite endeavour in which the Government keeps a keen eye on the larger social objectives to be achieved, in part through legislation. Otherwise, labour relations would be fractured by the contending interests of employers, whose final goal is to maximise returns and profits and minimise costs. Employees' need for employment could cause them to settle for the least or, at the other extreme, to protest against working conditions through strikes and other forms of industrial action. But in both cases, society would suffer. One reason why Singapore succeeds economically is that it seeks to obviate the need for industrial strife by making employers take seriously the fundamental interests of the workers who make their profits possible in the first place. Correspondingly, workers need to be productive and attentive to the demands which their organisations face in a competitive world. Singapore's business-friendly labour laws are not hostile to workers.
The new law on work-related injuries passed by Parliament last week is a part of a broader attempt to strike a balance between the interests of employees and employers, but it focuses rightly on expanding the protections available to injured workers. A physical injury is bad enough in itself, but it also is an intolerable economic and mental burden, not least on foreign workers, unless the country protects the rights of workers robustly. This is the intent of the new law, under which mandatory insurance for work-related injuries will provide higher maximum payouts and cover about 300,000 more workers. Employees placed on light duties because of injuries will also receive medical leave wages for up to two weeks, while companies with poor safety records may face higher insurance premiums when more information is available to insurers. The intention is to place the onus of providing a safe working environment squarely on the shoulders of employers, where it belongs. Workplace safety is an integral aspect of the social infrastructure of an ethical economy which values life and limb.