Parliament: Employment Act will be widened to cover workers earning more than $4,500

Professionals, managers and executives currently make up about one-third of Singapore's resident workforce, which stands at about 2.3 million. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Employment Act will be reviewed to ensure that higher-paid workers, including professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), will be entitled to employment terms such as paid sick leave and compensation for wrongful dismissal.

These rights, spelt out in the core provisions of the Employment Act, are currently only for PMEs who earn up to $4,500 a month and non-PMEs.

But the salary cap will be removed, in a move that would benefit 430,000 more PMEs - more than half the 720,000 PMEs today.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say announced the move on Monday (March 5) during the debate on his ministry's budget, during which Labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Dr Intan Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) had asked about a review of the Employment Act. The changes to the Act will be implemented by April 1 next year.

Mr Lim said this move would extend legal protection to all workers, except for public servants, domestic workers, and seafarers who are covered separately, such as by other legal provisions, due to their nature of work.

PMEs currently make up about one-third of Singapore's resident workforce, which stands at about 2.3 million.

The changes to the Act are likely to be tabled in Parliament in September, The Straits Times understands. This follows public consultation on the proposed changes, which wrapped up last month.

Mr Tay told The Straits Times that he sees about five to 10 PMEs earning more than $4,500 approaching him and NTUC for help with workplace grievances on a regular basis. These were mainly for unfair dismissal.

"I suspect there are more cases," he said.

As they are not covered under the Act, their only recourse is a civil suit or voluntary mediation if they cannot resolve the issue with the employer or through a union. But many of the companies they work in are not unionised, he added.

With the proposed changes, this group could appeal to the Manpower Minister to get their jobs back.

Mr Lim said more rank-and-file workers, such as clerks and retail assistants, will also receive additional protection for additional provisions such as annual leave, overtime pay and rest days.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will also improve how employment disputes are settled. Though dismissal claims and salary issues often go together, workers have to go to two different parties to resolve their cases.

This is because salary-related disputes are heard by the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), while wrongful dismissal claims go before MOM.

But after changes to the Act have been made, workers can go to the tribunals to address both issues.

In response to Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, who asked about protection for contract workers, Mr Lim said the Tripartite Standard on the Employment of Term Contract Employees was launched in July last year.

Currently, one issue is that term-contract employees may have their leave entitlements reset to the statutory minimum by the employer each time their contracts are renewed.

But employers who adopt the tripartite standard will provide term-contract employees with leave benefits and termination notice periods that are commensurate with their cumulative length of service. They will also provide training to these employees as they do with permanent staff to ensure that they can perform their roles effectively.

Mr Lim said that as of the end of last month, more than 550 employers covering more than 30,000 employees on term contracts have adopted this standard.

He added that he will look into Dr Goh's suggestions to conduct surveys to find out what the gaps in the Tripartite Standard are, and to include retrenchment benefits in the standard.

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