SINGAPORE: More workers will be protected and they may see their working conditions improve under proposed changes to Singapore's main labour law, the Employment Act.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo tabled the first reading of the Employment (Amendment) Act in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 2).
The amendment was first mooted by ex-Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say during the ministry’s Committee of Supply debate in March. It includes three main updates to the Act, which stipulates core benefits for workers covered under it, such as the minimum days of leave for workers.
It also includes protection for the timely payment of salaries, maternity protection and childcare leave, and statutory protection against wrongful dismissal.
REMOVAL OF SALARY CAP TO COVER MORE WORKERS
Currently, the Employment Act covers workers who earn up to S$4,500. Under the proposed amendments, the salary cap will be removed to cover all professionals, managers, executives and technicians, who make up 56 per cent of the local workforce.
With the lifting of the salary cap, an additional 430,000 PMEs will come under the protection of the Act.
The exceptions are public servants, domestic workers and seafarers who are covered by other Acts due to the nature of their work.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has also proposed to raise the salary cap on the protection for hours of work and overtime pay to more workers.
Currently, about 99 per cent of blue-collar workers who earn up to S$4,500 and white-collar workers who earn up to S$2,500 come under the Employment Act's protection on this.
The proposed changes want to raise the salary cap for white-collar workers to S$2,600, which will extend protection to half of Singapore's workforce.
On overtime pay, the salary cap for white-collar workers will be revised upwards from S$2,250 to S$2,600, benefitting about 100,000 of the office workers.
Disputes between employees and employers will be made easier to tackle. Currently, workers have to go to two different parties to work out their employment disputes.
Salary-related disputes are mediated at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). If they are unresolved, these disputes are escalated to the Employment Claims Tribunals.
Wrongful dismissal claims are heard by MOM.
With the changes, the Employment Claims Tribunal will act as a "one-stop service" to hear all employment-related disputes.
The proposed amendments also cover a redefinition of dismissals from workplaces.
Under the new definition, dismissals will include the involuntary resignation of an employee, and not just an employer terminating the contract of service of an employee.
Employers are also required to obtain the written consent of their employees should they want to make any deductions from their salary for certain services such as accommodation or amenities.
Written consent may also be withdrawn, without penalty in some scenarios, by the employee in written notice before the deduction is made.
WATCH: Josephine Teo on hospitalisation leave issued by community hospitals
The proposed changes also extend to medical leave. Under the amendments, any medical practitioner can certify an employee's entitlement to paid sick leave. Currently, the Act states this can only be done by medical practitioners appointed by the employer.
In another change, any hospital or medical institution, such as community hospitals, will be considered an approved hospital and accepted for paid hospitalisation leave.
Currently, employees can only qualify for paid hospitalisation leave if they are admitted to an acute hospital or national centre. This leave is extended to employees warded at community hospitals only if they are referred there by acute hospitals.
With the changes to the Act, employees can be entitled to hospitalisation leave when they are directly admitted to a community hospital.
On the topic of retrenchment, employers have to furnish information on the retrenchment of any employee to the Commissioner for Labour when asked to.
The Employment Act was last reviewed in 2012. These changes are slated for implementation by April next year. The Bill’s second reading will take place during the next Parliament sitting.