Why It Matters

More protection for workers

Two changes to the Employment Act took effect last Friday without fanfare, but their implications are wide-ranging.

From this month, employers must provide workers with their key employment terms, like job scope and working hours, in writing.

They must also issue payslips. Not just a paper stub to show the worker has been paid, but a proper breakdown of items like basic and overtime pay.

On the surface, these moves look easy to implement. Yet it took three years for them to kick in.

When compulsory payslips were announced in March 2013, small firms were worried this would add to costs. To allay concerns, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) took the unprecedented step of giving out a free payslip-generating software. Also, unusually, MOM said it would take a “light-touch enforcement approach” in the first year, focusing on educating bosses instead of fining them the maximum $1,000 under the law for each initial breach and $2,000 for subsequent infractions. This means one more year before the rules take full effect.

Still, the changes ought to bring cheer to workers now, especially those in low-wage sectors like cleaning and security. These workers tend to be lower educated and elderly. They do not have many job options and may not know their rights. They will now be better protected in at least three ways from bosses who may short-change them.

For one thing, employers will no longer be able to avoid making Central Provident Fund contributions by enticing workers to take daily cash payments instead of a monthly salary. Having a paper trail will also help workers when there are disputes. And having to put employment terms in writing and issue payslips will make bosses think twice about exploiting workers. There is a deterrent effect.

The moves are not problem-free. In the casual sector like hawker stalls or family-owned shops, one wonders how bosses might put in writing working hours and basic wages of their family members.

These areas aside, the rules are long overdue. They signal very clearly that the Government is serious about protecting vulnerable low-wage workers.

File Correction: This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2016, with the headline 'More protection for workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe