The Law of Singapore, like any law, is aimed at protecting the people. Its raison d’etre is to empower individuals with the opportunity to seek justice, and guard them from harm. Out of the many bodies of law, I have found that one of them has been more frequently overlooked than others, and that is labour law.
Labour law does not refer to any specific statute or section of the law. Rather, it is a body of laws and administrative rulings that govern the rights and obligations of working individuals and the organizations that employ them. It manages the relationship between employer, employees and the unions, as well as spells out the rights and obligations of employees and employers in the enforcement of contracts for work. (aka. Employment)
How familiar are you with Singapore labour law?
Try answering these questions:
1. Do all parts of the employment act apply to all employees?
2. Are strikes legal? If so, what is the standard operating procedure?
3. In what situations can an employer terminate an employment contract without notice?
*(Answers are at the bottom of the page)
If you are unable to answer these questions, you might want to read up more. Many Singaporeans are not as familiar with Labour Law than they ought to be. Perhaps it is time we ramp up efforts to change this. This is because, the upholding and understanding of labour law is important for several reasons.
First, it protects our workers. An understanding of their rights will guard every worker from abuse by their employers. This goes beyond the issue of wages but also concerns terms of employment and physical safety as well. By knowing the obligations and responsibilities of employees under the law, our workers will also be able avoid falling into a situation where their employment may be terminated due to their wrongful conduct. In addition, understanding the frameworks for dispute resolution will empower workers with the ability to settle disputes in a constructive manner, rather than allow trade disputes to mar their quality of employment or worse, cause them to be arrested for illegal activities.
Second, it protects Singaporean families. Workers are not just men and women but also fathers and mothers who carry with them crucial responsibilities. The circumstances of their employment will have a profound impact on the lives of their dependents. This includes, for example, the amount of financial support they can afford to give to their elderly parents, as well as the quality of the environment that their children grow up in. These include expenses related to housing, healthcare and education. Any sudden termination of employment or injury in the course of their employment can result in severe consequences for the well being of their dependents. Knowing the law will help these individuals seek the protection they need, as well as the restitution that they are entitled to under the law, to ensure their loved ones do not suffer as a result of the issues they face in the course of their employment.
Third, it protects our employers. Many employers who are unaware of their rights and obligations may unknowingly break the law. This may lead to undesirable legal consequences, civil or criminal, that may adversely affect the employer, his company as well as his dependents. In addition, employers may be unaware of their worker’s rights, and a violation of these rights may lead to poor labour relations, thereby affecting the performance of the employer’s workforce. Being oblivious to the various mechanisms for trade dispute resolution also decreases the chances of a timely resolution to employer-employee conflicts, impeding business activity and the performance of the employer’s company.
Finally, it protects our economy. Singapore lacks natural resources and relies on its manpower to remain economically viable. Strong labour laws safeguard the rights of employees and promote a positive work environment. If people are confident that there are laws to protect them in their course of employment, they are more likely to work here, and contribute to our talent pool. As mentioned earlier, understanding the mechanisms for trade dispute resolution ensures that lock-outs and strikes are a rarity and that economic activity may continue unhindered. This protects Singapore’s reputation as a healthy economy with a stable, predictable workforce, increasing our attractiveness and ultimately, our economic growth. Therefore, regardless of whether you are an employer or an employee, it is best learn as much about labour law as possible. It is very likely that at some point in your work, you will encounter situations when an understanding of the law would contribute significantly to the betterment of your circumstances.
1.No. The Employment Act covers all employees, regardless of nationality, unless exceptions apply due to their employment positions, with the exception of Part IV which only applies to employees whose salaries do not exceed $2000 a month and manual labourers whose salaries do not exceed $4500. (source: Unemployment Act)
2. Yes. However, the strike must have no other objective other than to further a trade dispute; the Industrial Arbitration Court must not be aware of the dispute; it cannot be designed to coerce the government directly or indirectly; it cannot be carried by employees of water, gas or electricity services (essential services) and notice has to be given at least 14 days before the strike is to happen. In addition, strikes in response to illegal lock-outs will be deemed legal. It is important to note that public order laws still apply and any demonstration carried out during the strike must fall within the confines of the law.
3. Termination of employment without notice can take place if, inter alia: a. The employee is absent for 2 days without valid reason; b. The employee is found guilty of misconduct subject to inquiry and appeal; c. The employer’s financial circumstances compels him to do so (eg. Bankruptcy); d. Termination without notice is stated as part of the contract for work; or e. The employee is incapable of carrying on the contract (eg. via injury or death)
Termination of employment (not covered by Employment Act) http://www.lawgazette.com.sg/2001-1/Jan01-focus3.htm
MOM’s guide to Employment Rights and Conditions (easier to read than going through the Statutes)
Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act – outlining the procedures and the boundaries for a legal strike to take place http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;page=0;query=CompId%3A5e4e4d4f-f744-4a02-b8be-367a86d8c624;rec=0;resUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fstatutes.agc.gov.sg%2Faol%2Fbrowse%2FtitleResults.w3p%3Bletter%3DC%3BpNum%3D2%3Btype%3DactsAll
This article and the information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. These materials are intended, but not promised or guaranteed to be current, complete, or up-to-date and should in no way be taken as an indication of future results. This article is offered only for general informational and educational purposes. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this article without first seeking the advice of an attorney.
The writer is also the founder and editor of the socio-political commentary site The Expository