In Session: A Review of the Employment Act

The Ministry of Manpower has initiated a review of the Employment Act and NTUC has fired the first salvo. Amongst their more interesting proposals include a wish-list of amendments to  “Part 4”. But what does the regular man in the street understand about “Part 4” (otherwise known as Rest Days, Hours of Work and Other Conditions of Service)?

Last updated in 2008, Part 4 of the EA deals with the benefit a worker enjoys during his term of employment. To understand how important this change is, one has to take a step back and appreciate the worker’s environment.

The Singaporean working culture is all about speed and results.

The Asian working culture is all about blind corporate faith and hardwork.

When you merge the two together, you get a workforce that feels guilty about going home on time. Even a holiday or a weekend cannot be enjoyed in peace if not in the proximity of a laptop, or being engrossed on the Blackberry. The result – a city that revels in spending more time at the office, than they do at home with family and friends.

FSaaM spoke with Jonathan Lee, 23, a fresh IT grad working in a web development agency, on what he felt about the proposed changes. (At present, Jonathan makes more than $2000 and thus will not be covered by Part 4 of the Employment Act)

We highlighted a few points of Part 4 we felt would affect him:

  • Enforced one rest day a week
  • No employee shall be compelled to work on a rest day
  • If work must be performed on a rest day, company is required to pay OT
  • Employee cannot work for more than 6 hours without a period of leisure
  • Not work more than 8 hours a day and/or 44 hours a week
  • Not permitted to work for more than 72 hours a month
  • Holidays and leave will be enforced

And to enforce these points; any employer who employs any person as an employee contrary to the provisions of this Part or fails to pay any salary in accordance with the provisions of this Part shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000, and for a second or subsequent offence to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

“For all this to actually work, Singaporeans must be ready and more willing to stand up against employers who strong-arm their way around it”. Jonathan refers to the bosses, especially SME bosses who use threats of termination or emotional “blackmail” to skirt around legal obligations.

“I think a good idea is if we encourage a system of whistle-blowers”, he suggested. We agree. This practice creates a back-door for workers to reach the labour courts and tripartite partners and doubles up as an emotional barrier for the affected employee.

Then comes the question of termination. “So what if you win the battle, but lose the war”? Today, your entitlement for retrenchment benefits kick-in only after you have worked with a company for 3 years or more. To defend against revenge terminations by unscrupulous employers, revisions include moving the 3 year requirement to a much lower term.

Jonathan seems pleased after hearing this, “I think happiness is worth pursuing. If you have to go that far in fighting for a decent rest, then maybe that company is not a place you should be working for anyway”. This is especially true for time starved executives. Parents, children, spouses even pets demand your time as much as work. And so does National Service (the package also asks for reviews to men with NS liability, today if an NSman completes his service and books out on a Sunday, he has to return to his desk the very next day, scant enough time to wash his uniform and have a good sleep).

Work and rest are fundamental rights a worker must have. The perverse Asian attitude of dedicating more time to work than for your family must be curtailed.

Employers and businessmen must know that labour is not cheap, labour is not disposable and when you hire someone – you’re responsible for his and her life, their marriages, their parents and even their children.

We are looking forward to seeing the proposals by SNEF, employers and ultimately a decision by the Ministry of Manpower.

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