The Singapore government has recently announced a number of employment-related changes in Singapore, including changes to paternity and maternity leave entitlements, changes to the re- employment age ceiling and the introduction of an Employment Claims Tribunal to hear salary- related disputes. In this bulletin, we summarise these key changes.
Increase in paternity leave entitlements
Employers will already be aware that an additional week of paternity leave was announced in August 2015 and implemented on a voluntary basis in the private sector. This measure was aimed at encouraging shared parental responsibility and creating a more supportive financial and workplace environment to enable them to do so.
On 9 May 2016, amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act (CDCSA) were passed, allowing companies in the private sector to claim reimbursement from the government for providing the additional week's leave to eligible fathers from 24 August 2015. The amendments also cover fathers of children whose estimated delivery date was on or after 1 January 2015. A second round of amendments to the CDCSA is expected to be introduced later this year, which will make it mandatory for employers in the private sector to provide the additional week's leave to eligible fathers from 1 January 2017.
Increase in shared parental leave entitlements
In addition to the increase in paternity leave entitlements, the Singapore government has also announced that the shared parental leave entitlement will be increased to four weeks, up from the current one-week entitlement, from 1 July 2017. This means that eligible fathers will be able to request for an additional four weeks' paid leave, out of the mother's maternity leave entitlement, to be taken on top of their own paternity leave entitlement.
Changes to maternity leave entitlements
The Singapore government has also agreed to extend the 16-week maternity leave entitlements under the CDCSA to single mothers, following repeated calls over the years to do so. Currently, the CDCSA requires mothers to be married to the child's father in order to be eligible to take the 16-week maternity leave entitlement; single mothers are only entitled to 12 weeks' maternity leave under the Employment Act (EA) if they are covered by the EA. These new changes are expected to take effect early next year, pursuant to further amendments to the CDCSA.
Changes to re-employment age ceiling
The Singapore government also announced last year that it will be raising the re-employment age ceiling by two years from the current age ceiling of 65, meaning that employers will be required to offer re-employment to eligible employees who are between the ages of 62 to 67. The changes have now been announced to take effect from 1 July 2017. In the interim, the Singapore government is expected to continue its support of companies which voluntarily re-employ older workers above the age of 65.
Introduction of the Employment Claims Tribunal
In 2014, the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that it was considering the establishment of an Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) to hear salary-related claims from employees. Currently, the EA empowers the Commissioner for Labour to inquire into and decide salary-related claims from employees covered by the EA. Employees who are not covered by the EA, however, only have recourse to file claims in the civil courts; the establishment of the ECT was thus mooted in order to provide all employees with access to a more efficient and less costly dispute resolution mechanism.
In a public consultation exercise earlier this year, the MOM further expanded on the details of the ECT proposal. A key feature of the proposal is that the ECT should be established as a Tribunal under the State Courts, and will also hear claims of those covered by the EA. Other features of the proposal include:
- inclusive coverage by the ECT – the proposal recommends that the ECT handles salary-related claims from both rank-and-file employees as well as professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), regardless of their salary level. ECT coverage is however intended to exclude public servants, domestic workers and seafarers;
- the types of claims – another key feature is that the ECT hears only salary-related claims from employees, including statutory claims under legislation and salary-related claims which are expressly provided in monetary terms in employment contracts;
- a limit on the claims amount and a time limit on filing claims – the proposal also recommends that claims filed with the ECT be capped at SGD 20,000 per claim (SGD 30,000 per claim if the employee is a member of a trade union and goes through the Tripartite Mediation Framework or the MOM conciliation process). Claims are also to be filed within one year from the date on which the claim arises; and
- the role of mediation – the proposal recommends that claimants are first required to go through a mandatory mediation process before their cases are heard by the ECT.
These changes represent a significant movement in the Singapore employment landscape.