The Employment Act of 1968 provided the legislative underpinning for labour's role in the explosive expansion of the economy. Singapore's main employment law secured the basic terms and working conditions for employees while being attentive to the need for employers to stay competitive. The Act is also a centrepiece of the model of tripartism in which the State plays the role of a referee to level the playing field between capital and labour. That the model has survived the ups and downs of an economy, which is tied to the vagaries of the global market, attests to its viability.
It is apposite that the Act's 50th year should be marked by changes that Parliament approved this week. Essentially, these expand its protective ambit to now cover all private sector employees, extend extra protection to more rank-and-file workers, and improve the employment dispute resolution framework. The amendments recognise the changing composition of the Singapore workforce. For example, the proportion of professionals, managers, executives and technicians is expected to make up two-thirds of the local workforce by 2030, a far cry from when managers and executives (M&Es) were a very small part of the workforce. By removing the $4,500 salary threshold for M&Es, all employees - whether M&Es, workmen or non-workmen - will be covered by core provisions under the Act. This will benefit an additional 430,000 M&Es.