In line with the clear intent to afford greater protection to PMEs (Professionals, Managers and Executives), which form an integral and ever-increasing part of Singapore’s workforce, 2015 will see significant amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. Mainly, these will allow for collective representation of PMEs by trade unions (only individual representation of PMEs is currently allowed). In addition, the Employment Claims Tribunal will also be launched later in 2015. This tribunal is specifically catered to help all PMEs (including those earning monthly salaries over S$4,500 and therefore not covered under the Employment Act, as well as non-union members) settle their employment disputes outside of the civil courts. The aim is for the tribunal, which may potentially not allow for representation of parties by lawyers, to encourage mediation and conciliation of disputes (possibly in a compulsory manner), prior to formal adjudication.
The effects of the 15 November 2014 implementation of the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), Singapore’s first piece of dedicated anti-harassment legislation, is likely to continue to be felt in 2015. The Courts have already received a significant number of Magistrate’s Complaints under POHA, which criminalises the causing of intentional (and in some cases, unintentional) harassment, alarm and distress, with a specific emphasis on sexual harassment, stalking and cyber-bullying. POHA also allows for civil remedies for the statutory tort of harassment, and the granting of protection orders (and expedited protection orders) through the civil courts. In this respect, it will be interesting to see if employers will be made vicariously liable in appropriate cases for harassment by their employees; in any event, anti-harassment training by companies should now be a priority if it is not already.
Separate from but not unrelated to the emphasis on the protection of PMEs are the Government’s efforts to strengthen the Singaporean core of our workforce through the Fair Consideration Framework, whereby employers doing business in Singapore are expected to put in place fair hiring, employment and staff development practices that are open, merit-based and non-discriminatory. In line with this, from 1 August 2014, firms submitting Employment Pass applications (which are required for non-Singaporean PMEs to work in Singapore) had to advertise job vacancies that must be open to Singaporeans for 14 calendar days on the Jobs Bank. While certain jobs are exempted (e.g. for jobs paying monthly salaries of more than S$12,000), this new regime has obvious ramifications for the employment of foreigners in Singapore, and its effects will continue to be felt in 2015.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Singapore has yet to see formal prosecutions and charges over breaches of the substantive provisions of the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), apart from under the Do Not Call Registry. The substantive provisions of the PDPA, which came into force on 2 July 2014, impose controls over the collection, use and disclosure of personal data. It will bear watching when and how such prosecutions proceed, as they will allow for practical guidance as to the implementation by companies and employers of the involved provisions and guidelines of the PDPA.