NTUC calls for steps to include all PMEs under Employment Act

A general manager at a multinational company was shocked to see an e-mail saying he was terminated "with immediate effect" when he returned from hospital leave last year.

Mr Ong, 49, was told he had performed poorly. But he contends there was no proper performance appraisal done in the past year.

"It should be treated as a retrenchment instead," said Mr Ong, who declined to give his full name as he is still in talks with the company.

Professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) like Mr Ong, who earn above $4,500 a month, are currently not covered under the Employment Act, which provides workers here with basic rights like redress for unfair dismissals.

Those not covered have to rely on mediation or civil suits to resolve disputes with employers.

But this could change. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced on Thursday that it is reviewing parts of the Act - including whether basic employment rights should be extended to all workers - and sought feedback from the public.

Yesterday, the labour movement called for MOM to remove the $4,500 salary cap for PMEs so that all can come under the Act.

In a blog post, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay noted that PMEs comprise about a third of the resident workforce, and their wages have risen. He said the median gross monthly salary for resident PMEs and technicians was about $5,910 as of June 2016.

While the cap is meant to strike a balance between workers' rights and letting firms manage their labour obligations and costs, the changing workforce profile means the Act must be regularly reviewed to ensure this balance is kept, he wrote.

He said separately that digital disruption is putting certain jobs at risk, and prompting some companies to restructure. "If the Act is changed to cover all workers, at least there will be some basic rudimentary protection for them," he added.

The labour movement would also like to see higher salary limits for Part IV of the Act, which provides additional protection to specific groups of workers.

Employment Claims Tribunals, which hears salary-related disputes, should be expanded to cover wrongful dismissals as well, Mr Tay said.

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) yesterday said some benefit provisions under the Act should not apply to PMEs in senior management positions, as their compensation packages would factor in their responsibilities and expected workload.

SNEF agreed that salary limits for some workers entitled to overtime payments could be reviewed, but cautioned that raising the limits could impose additional costs and impede business operations of smaller firms and those in the retail, hospitality and restaurant sectors.

As for dispute resolution, employers should be allowed to claim unearned salary items like incentives from employees, it said.

Noting that other countries are reforming labour laws to make their labour markets more flexible and competitive, SNEF said the review here should not lead to "regressive changes" that introduce rigidities and unnecessary increases in compliance and labour costs. It will consult 3,300 employers, which have more than 750,000 employees, over the next few weeks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'NTUC calls for steps to include all PMEs under Employment Act'. Print Edition | Subscribe