The Employment (Amendment) Bill was read for the first time in Parliament on 13 July 2015.
The key proposed amendments are:
- greater demands on employers pertaining to the recording of employee information;
- the introduction of civil contraventions for the purposes of the Employment Act ("EA"), and the enhancement of the powers of enforcement officers; and
- restrictive modifications to maternity and childcare benefits, and consequential amendments to the Child Development Co-Savings Act ("CDCA").
Revised obligations for employers with regard to employee records
The statutory obligations concerning employee records have been amended to place greater responsibilities on employers. These changes include, but are not limited to:
- requiring employers to make and keep records of prescribed particulars of every present and former employee (in place of a register of employees and record of workmen);
- a new 'record retention period' (which has not been defined, although it is stated that different periods may be prescribed for different classes of employees or different types of employee records), for which the employer must keep an employee's records;
- rendering each employee's (both present and former) record accessible to him during the record retention period;
- the issuance of a written record of the key employment terms of the employee within 14 days of his commencement of employment with the employer. This can be done by electronic record or posting the details on the Internet and directing the employees to them; and
- it is now an obligation under the EA for an employer to issue itemised pay slips to employees.
Civil contraventions and enforcement of penalties
Failure to comply with the aforementioned new record provisions, or the provision of inaccurate employee information to inspecting officers (whether intentional or not) will render the employer liable for civil contraventions. An authorised officer from the Ministry of Manpower ("MOM") may then issue a contravention notice to the employer detailing the alleged contravention, requiring him to pay an 'administrative penalty', as well as specifying the amount to be paid and the deadline for payment. There is a limit of S$1,000 for each occasion of a civil contravention, and S$2,000 for the second or subsequent occasions of the contravention.
An employer may appeal the alleged contravention in accordance with prescribed conditions. The first appeal will be considered by a reviewing authorised officer, although a second appeal can be made to the High Court if the employer so desires.
The MOM's power to prescribe penalties has also been enhanced. Where its power is currently restricted to a narrow range of contraventions, it will be able to prescribe penalties (limited to S$5,000 for first convictions and S$10,000 for subsequent convictions for the same contravention within a year) for the contravention of any regulations under the EA.
Maternity and childcare benefits
Several modifications to these benefits have been made, including the following:
- Female employees will no longer be paid for any day during the maternity benefit period on which she takes no-pay leave; and
- No employee is entitled to take paid childcare leave on a day he or she takes no-pay leave.
The consequential and related amendments have also been made to the CDCA.
Employers should take these amendments into account in calculating benefit payments to their employees.
More stringent checks on foreign PMEs
Currently, the MOM bans EP applicants with forged qualifications from working in Singapore for life. Now, the MOM will also reject work pass applications which contain doubtful qualifications such as those from degree mills.
In addition, the MOM intends to place more weight on the relevant experience of EP and S pass applicants, especially those applying for professional occupations.
The MOM has revamped the system of employee records, and employers will have to adapt their practices thereof in accordance with the amendments when they come into force, so as to avoid convictions for civil contraventions and the resulting administrative penalties. Additionally, it is in the interests of employers to be aware of the proposed changes to maternity and childcare benefit entitlement in their administration of employee remuneration.
Given that this is only the first reading, more changes may be introduced as the Singapore Government seeks to continue revamping our employment laws in order to modernise them.