Labour movement outlines wishlist for Employment Act review

Labour movement outlines wishlist for Employment Act review

Channel NewsAsia·2018-01-20 07:05

Office workers walk to the train station during evening rush hour in Singapore's financial district. (File photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: Widening the Employment Act's scope to cover more workers beyond the current stipulated salary caps is on the wishlist for the labour movement, NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay wrote in a blog post published on Friday (Jan 19).This is because the labour movement has been "challenged with difficult questions" concerning various parts of the Act over the past few years, in the backdrop of a higher number of layoffs in 2016, and cases of unfair dismissals, outsourcing and volatility.

However, Mr Tay wrote that while many professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have been approaching the labour movement for help, those with a monthly basic salary of more than S$4,500 are currently not covered under the Employment Act.At the same time, he noted that the median wages and proportion of both PMEs and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) have been climbing steadily, at 34 per cent and 54 per cent respectively. 

The median gross monthly salaries of workers was S$4,056 as of 2016, while the gross monthly salaries for the 50th percentile of PMETs was S$5,910 as of June 2016.Due to a "changing workforce profile, upward movements of median wages as well as a stronger impetus to ensure our employment laws stay relevant", Mr Tay outlined the labour movement's wishlist for the Employment Act review.  

This includes the expansion of its scope to cover PMEs beyond the S$4,500 limit, in light of rising median wages and PMEs gradually forming the majority of the workforce. 

Despite amendments being made to the Industrial Relations Act in 2015 allowing collective representation of PMEs by all unions, Mr Tay observed that there were cases where the management of unionised companies used the "S$4,500 limit" as a "proxy to suggest that the union cannot expand its scope of representation beyond those earning more than this sum". 

However, he noted that "such cases are not aplenty".REVIEWING SALARY CAPS FOR OVERTIME PAYMENTSMr Tay also wrote that there is a need to review the S$2,500 and S$4,500 salary caps in relation to overtime payments to keep pace with wage movements. 

Currently, the two categories of workers entitled to overtime payments, as outlined in Part IV of the Act, include non-workmen earning a monthly basic salary of not more than S$2,500, as well as workmen earning a monthly basic salary of not more than S$4,500."Moving ahead, I also see a need to address whether the dichotomy between ‘workman’ and ‘non-workman’ is still tenable and also whether it is also appropriate to consider extending the scope of Part IV to PMEs," Mr Tay wrote. 

"This may well be needed as the dichotomy between ‘rank-and-file’ and ‘PME’ workers becomes increasingly blurred but it will require a closer and deeper examination as it will have a significant impact to both workers and employers."Mr Tay added that it was "imperative" that the Employment Claims Tribunal be expanded to cover unfair or wrongful dismissal cases over and above current salary-related claims. 

The tribunal, which was set up last April to assist PMEs in dispute resolution, does not have jurisdiction to hear these cases under the Employment Act, which does not protect PMEs earning above S$4,500 with regards to unfair or wrongful dismissals.He also suggested amending a "highly moot" provision in the Act, which allows employers to transfer workers to another employer if the organisation is being restructured. 

He said: "I suggest we should consider amending Section 18A to provide greater clarity. The other alternative would be to issue tripartite guidelines or an explicit articulation on what transfers or transactions fall within or outside of Section 18A.

"This is one area that has constantly been tested, challenged and greater clarity would be a boon for unions, employers and legal counsels."While Mr Tay noted that these areas were important to review to ensure that the Act's relevance in serving the needs of the future workforce, he wrote that the amendments should not compromise the need to preserve effective collective bargaining and bringing more workers within the tripartite relationship.The blog post comes a day after the Ministry of Manpower launched a month-long public consultation exercise, seeking feedback on areas being considered in the review of the Employment Act. 

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