Changes to Employment Act to better protect rights of employers, workers

August 19, 201510:30 am347 views
Changes to Employment Act to better protect rights of employers, workers
Changes to Employment Act to better protect rights of employers, workers

New laws to better protect the rights of both employers and workers will take effect from April next year, with a one-year grace period to help companies adjust to the changes.

But even as Members of Parliament (MPs) welcomed the changes to the Employment Act, they felt that the terms and conditions could be tightened further, with some calling for a shorter grace period and less flexibility for employers.

Under the Employment (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by Parliament yesterday (Aug 17), employers will be required to provide itemised payslips and employment terms in writing to their workers.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said such documents will allow employees to better understand their regular salary components, as well as employment terms and benefits.

“This will help the employers to prevent misunderstandings and minimise disputes with their employees,” he told Parliament.

Employers will be given the flexibility of issuing these documents in either soft or hard copy, including handwritten notices.

Common employment terms can be written in the company’s website or employee handbook, provided the information is readily accessible to workers. However, only workers who are employed for 14 consecutive days or more will have their job scope spelt out.

MP Zainudin Nordin (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) said: “I’ve seen cases where workers don’t even have proper contracts, let alone know the terms under which they’re employed. When there is a dispute, the employers will not hesitate to read the terms to their own advantage. The workers are (getting) the short end of the stick.”

Agreeing, labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) said: “Without itemised payslips and employment terms, it makes it very challenging for unions to gather information when workers come to us to seek redress on workplace grievance on issues like salary disputes or job expectations.”

Under the new laws, employment terms have to be provided within two weeks of joining the company. However, Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam proposed that this timeline be brought forward to two weeks prior to the start of work.

“When an employee sees the employment terms only after Day 13 — after he started his (job) — and finds them unfavourable, he’s being forced to accept such unfavourable conditions or to quit without (finding another) job,” she said.

Mr Zainal suggested that employers of workers earning below S$1,900 should be required to issue hard copy documents.

Noting that low-wage workers may not have access to electronic devices, he said: “This may hinder the effectiveness of the amendment (if workers) do not even know how to access their payslips and employment terms.”

However, Mr Lim maintained that employers will be given the flexibility to decide on “the form that best meets (their) needs”.

While Mr Zainal had suggested that the grace period be cut by half, Mr Lim said the one-year period will allow companies more time to adapt to the new laws.

Between April next year and end-March 2017, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will practise enforcement with a light touch, and focus on educating small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Calling the changes “overdue”, Nominated MP Randolph Tan said the priority now should be to roll out schemes to assist small businesses with the setting-up of the necessary systems.

The MOM has been providing an assistance package — in the form of blank payslips and funding support — for SMEs over the past two years.

It will be stepping up its efforts by issuing more detailed guides, with sample payslips and employment terms. Briefings and workshops will also be conducted to explain the changes.

Another change to the Act is the introduction of an administrative penalty framework, rendering less severe breaches “non-criminal” from April next year.

Four breaches will be covered under this new framework: Failure to issue itemised payslips; failure to spell out employment terms in writing; failure to maintain detailed employment records; and provision of inaccurate information to officers without the intent to defraud and mislead.

Any breach will result in a fine of S$100 to S$200 for each worker or occurrence, depending on its type.

“The proposed amendments will raise employment standards and facilitate dispute resolution at the workplace,” said Mr Lim. “They will also provide employers the flexibility to manage these changes in a practical manner.”

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