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Singapore – Employment Quarterly Review 2014, Quarter 2.

12 August, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore – Labour & Employment

 

Looking Back:

 

1 April: Amendments To The Employment Act Take Effect 


The changes to the Employment Act (‘EA’) which were approved by Parliament in November 2013 have come into effect as of 1 April 2014. The changes seek to extend better protection to more workers and to improve employment standards. The key changes include (i) extending the applicability of general protection under the EA including protection against unfair dismissal and sick leave benefits to professionals, managers and executives earning a basic monthly salary of up to SGD4,500 and (ii) extending the application of protection relating to working hours and rest days to non-workmen earning a basic monthly salary of up to SGD 2,500. These changes will have a significant impact on organisations who employ a sizeable number of employees in the above two categories and these organisations will have to amend their employment policies and practices to comply with the changes. The MOM and its tripartite partners have also prepared various forms of assistance to help raise public awareness about the EA changes and to help employers to comply with them.

 

Reference: Ministry of Manpower

 

3 April: Implications On Employees’ Duty Of Fidelity To The Employer (Trident Pharm Pte Ltd V Yong Pei Pei Tracy [2014] SGHC 59)


This case involves an employer bringing an action against a former employee alleging a breach of her duty of fidelity as an employee. The employer had a lease to operate a retail pharmacy in the building of the National Dental Centre of Singapore (‘NDC’). The lease was due to expire and NDC invited tenders for a fresh lease. The employee participated in the tender with her husband and NDC awarded the new lease to the employee and her husband. The employee subsequently resigned from the employer. 


The High Court held that the employee was not in breach of her duty of fidelity. The fact that she had joined a rival bid and failed to disclose that act to the employer was not sufficient to constitute a breach of her duty of fidelity. The High Court further held that an employee’s duty of fidelity to her employer does not preclude the employee from taking preparatory steps to compete with a former employer and to subjugate their own interest to those of their employers. 


It was also noted on the facts that the employment contract between the employee and employer did not contain any non-competition clause and she was therefore free to compete so long as she was not employed by the employer. This case therefore illustrates the importance to employers to incorporate any non-competition obligations into their employment contracts in order to safeguard their interests.

 

Reference: Singapore Law Watch

 

10 April: 8 Employers And 2 Employment Agents Charged For Falsely Declaring Foreign Employees’ Salaries 


On 10 April 2014, the MOM charged 8 employers, who are franchisee of local convenience chain stores, and 2 employment agents for making false salary declarations to the Controller of Work Passes in relation to the application of 41 work passes. 7 out of 8 employers pleaded guilty and the highest fine imposed amounted to SGD 56k or in default, 42 weeks’ imprisonment. Out of the 41 employees, 37 were fined between SGD 5k and SGD 7k. This case follows a series of similar false declarations in the first quarter of 2014 and demonstrates the robust enforcement efforts of MOM against false declarations in work pass applications. These enforcement efforts came in light of the increase in penalties for false declarations under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (Cap.91A) in November 2012. It also emphasizes the importance to both employer and employees to make accurate, complete and truthful declarations when applying for work permits.

 

Reference: Ministry of Manpower

 

24 April: MOM Proposes Small Claims Tribunal To Hear Salary Disputes 


On 24 April 2014, it was announced that the MOM is looking to establish a small claims tribunal (‘Tribunal’) to resolve salary and other employment-related disputes. The Tribunal will provide a dispute resolution forum to all employees, whether or not they are covered by the Employment Act.

 

 

This means that employees who can avail themselves of the Tribunal’s processes will include professionals, managers and executives earning more than S$4,500 a month who currently can only pursue breaches of employment through protracted and expensive civil suits. The types of disputes which could be heard include, subject to certain claim limits, statutory issues under the Employment Act and other salary-related matters such as commissions, bonuses or annual wage supplement payments. The MOM is currently engaging and consulting stakeholders on the Tribunal and more details will be released at a later date.

 

25 April: Commissioner for Labour Adopts the Progressive wage Model Recommendations by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners 


The Environmental Public Health Amendment Bill has come into force on 1 April 2014 and all cleaning businesses are strongly encouraged to submit their applications for cleaning business licences so as to obtain their licences by the required date of 1 September 2014. One of the key requirements of the licensing regime is the need for licensees to have a progressive wage plan. With regard to this wage plan, the Commissioner for Labour has fully adopted the Progressive Wage Model (‘PWN’) recommendations by the Tripartite Cluster for Cleaners’ (‘TCC’). The TCC is a tripartite body appointed by the MOM and comprises of the employer, union, government, cleaning industry representatives and cleaning service buyers. As of 25 April 2014, all cleaning companies seeking to be licensed will need to ensure that their submitted progressive wage plans for their resident cleaners follow the TCC’s PWM. From 1 September 2014, licensed cleaning businesses must provide their resident cleaners payslips and employment contracts that state wages in accordance with their progressive wage plans and the Commissioner of Labour will enforce the PWM requirements for all new contracts.

 

Reference: Ministry of Manpower

 

7 May: Launch Of The Total Workplace Safety And Health Initiative 


The Total Workplace Safety and Health initiative (‘TWSH’) was launched on 7 May 2014 at the National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign 2014. TWSH is an initiative that encourages business to take a “holistic and integrated approach” in dealing with occupational safety and health and aims to involve key business stakeholders in not just the mitigation of safety hazards at the workplace but also the physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing of individual employees according to their specific needs and conditions. In conjunction with the TWSH, the Workplace Safety and Health Council published the Guide to Total Workplace Safety and Health that provides details on how businesses can implement the TWSH. Some of the key stipulations in the Guide include the requirement to conduct regular risk assessments, gap analysis and design intervention programmes to mitigate or eliminate these risks. 


In addition, the MOM is currently reviewing the regulatory penalties and legislative framework for workplace safety and health infringements with the aim of “sending out a stronger deterrent message”. These measures taken together demonstrate the Singapore Government’s focus on ensuring the safety and health of employees at work.

 

Reference:Workplace Safety And Health Draft, Today Online

 

8 May: Changes To The CPF Minimum Sum, Medisave Minimum Sum And Medisave Contribution Ceiling From 1 July 2014
In line with the increase in CPF Minimum Sum yearly to account for inflation, the Minimum Sum that will apply to CPF members turning 55 between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2015 is increased to SGD 155k. This will be set aside in their Retirement Account using savings from their Special and then Ordinary Accounts. This is to ensure that CPF members will have a higher payout when they retire. Meanwhile, the Minimum Sum for CPF members who turn 55 before 1 July 2014 remains unchanged.

 

 

In light of the longer life expectancy and better quality of medical treatment, the Medisave Minimum Sum and Contribution Ceiling are also adjusted so as to help Singaporeans pay for their healthcare expenses and to better prepare for their long-term healthcare needs. From 1 July 2014, the Medisave Minimum Sum will be raised to SGD 43,500 from SGD 40,500 and the Medisave Contribution Ceiling will be increased correspondingly to SGD 48,500 from SGD 45,500.

 

Reference: Ministry of Manpower, Central Provident Fund Board

 

23 May: Workplace Safety And Health (Asbestos) Regulations To Come Into Force On 30 May 2014


From 30 May 2014, the Workplace Safety and Health (Asbestos) Regulations will replace the Factories (Asbestos) Regulations. These regulations have been revised to accord better protection to workers against exposure to asbestos. Under the new regulations, an asbestos survey must be carried out before any work involving asbestos-containing materials or before building works such as demolition or alteration. This survey must be done by a person who has sufficient experience and training to perform the work and who has passed the Survey Asbestos and Other Fibres Risks at the Workplace Course under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework. Any asbestos and asbestos-containing material must be removed by an Approved Asbestos-Removal Contractor prior to any demolition. During the course of work, employers and contractors must also take measures to minimise asbestos release and prevent the spread of asbestos beyond the work area. This includes wetting the asbestos-containing material and providing exhaust ventilation. Workers must also be adequately trained and be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment.

 

Reference: Ministry of Manpower

 

27 May: The Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) to raise Re-employment Age from 65 to 67 


The MOM is working to finalise policy details that would raise the re-employment age to 67. Currently, firms are obliged to offer re-employment to workers who turn 62, up to the age of 65. Plans for the execution are currently being worked out by the Tripartite Committee on the Employability of Older Workers (‘Tricom’). These include reviewing the Retirement and Re-Employment Act as well as guidelines on wage adjustments. Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower, clarified that raising the re-employment age does not mean Singaporeans cannot retire before 67. Instead, the change aims to help those who wish to continue working. Dr Khor also encouraged employers to re-employ those who have reached 65 years old so long as they are able and ready to work as it could help in mitigating the tight labour market in Singapore.

 

Reference: Today Online

 

Rajah & Tann

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Kala Anandarajah, Partner, Rajah & Tann 

kala.anandarajah@rajahtann.com

 

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