It is without dispute that the Singapore employment landscape has been constantly adapting to keep up with global economic forces and the changing profile of local workforce.
The following changes to the Singapore employment landscape have recently been announced:
1. Changes to the Employment Act (Cap 91) of Singapore (the Act) – effective 1 April 2019 (We would highlight that the actual wording of the amendments to the Act have not been announced yet but we would envisage the amendments to cover the following ):
- The Act (other than Part IV) to cover employees earning more than SGD 4,500 – the Act (other than Part IV) will apply to all employees (except for public servants, domestic workers and seafarers) regardless of their salary levels. This would mean that managers and executives who were previously not protected by the Act would now benefit from the minimum standards stipulated by the Act in relation to certain conditions of their employment (for example, paid sick leave entitlement).
- Increase of salary threshold under Part IV of the Act for non-workmen from SGD 2,500 to SGD 2,600 - Part IV of the Act (which relates to time-based provisions such as annual leave, hours of work, overtime pay and rest days) currently provides additional protection for non-workmen (typically white-collar rank-and-file workers such as clerks) earning a basic monthly salary of up to SGD 2,500 and workmen earning a monthly salary of up to SGD 4,500. The salary cap for non-workmen will be raised from SGD 2,500 to SGD 2,600.
- Part IV of the Act – increase of salary cap for non-workmen for overtime pay from SGD 2,250 to SGD 2,600.
- Sections under Part IV of the Act to be reviewed – It is contemplated that benefits such as annual leave will be extended to all employees. As annual leave currently falls under Part IV of the Act, these specific provisions would need to be taken out of Part IV.
- Employment Claims Tribunal of Singapore to hear claims related to wrongful dismissal - currently, salary-related disputes are heard by the Employment Claims Tribunals of Singapore, while wrongful dismissal claims are heard by the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore. Noting that dismissal related claims are typically also salary-related, the Employment Claims Tribunals of Singapore will begin hearing claims related to wrongful dismissal, which should streamline the dispute resolution process.
2. Extension of applicability of Fair Consideration Framework – effective 1 July 2018 - currently the Fair Consideration Framework (being guidelines which require employers to consider Singaporeans fairly for all job opportunities) applies only to certain employers hiring certain employees. For instance, employers with more than 25 employees and jobs which paid a fixed monthly salary of more than SGD 12,000 are exempt from the framework. From 1 July 2018, the Fair Consideration Framework will apply to employers with at least 10 workers and for jobs paying less than SGD 15,000 a month. This forms part of the effort to ensure that Singaporeans have access to good jobs and that the quality of foreign employees is raised.
3. Increase in minimum qualifying monthly salary for S pass holders (mid-level skilled foreigners) from SGD 2,200 to SGD 2,400 – effective 1 January 2019 (increase to SGD 2,300) and 1 January 2020 (increase to SGD 2,400).
4. Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons – issued on 5 March 2018 – this is a set of guidelines on best practices for engaging freelance services which aim to ease payment disputes amongst self-employed persons.
By and large, Singapore has generally been regarded as having a pro-employer landscape and business-friendly approach. In light of the proposed changes to the employment regime in Singapore, employers are understandably concerned about the additional obligations and requirements which would need to be met. For starters, their employment contracts and employment handbooks would need to be reviewed for compliance under the amendments to the Act which will kick in on 1 April 2019.
Whether these changes would have a negative impact on Singapore's reputation as one of the 'easiest places to do business in Asia' remains to be seen.