Daniel Yap works in the media industry and enjoys blogging on social and political issues. He is married with four children. He blogs also at: http://doulosyap.wordpress.com
April has come around and a long-awaited update to the Employment Act (EA) is in force. Salary caps for protection under the EA have been raised to $2,500 a month for non-workmen. PMEs earning under $4,500 a month can also claim protection under the EA, except in matters relating to working hours covered by Part IV of the Act.
Penalties for flouting the EA have also been increased significantly, among a slew of other small improvements that benefit workers, yet give employers enough flexibility to work with the changes to the system.
This is the result of good work on the part of Labour lawmakers and the culmination of years of lobbying for key issues. The criticism of the unions, and in particular the National Trades Union Congress, as an ineffective body under the full control of the government seems to have finally met a strong rebuttal.
Yet, there is still plenty of ground to be covered as far as representing workers’ interests goes, so how we can continue to build on the changes to the EA?
1.) Payslips still left hanging
It was a disappointment for many workers’ rights advocates that itemized payslips had not yet been made mandatory, and instead tripartite guidelines have been issued with the intention to make itemized payslips mandatory within two years.
Many think that this deadline should be brought forward for larger companies, which have the resources and knowledge to execute them quickly. Grants and assistance for payroll training are already available for SMEs who need help implementing itemized payslips.
2.) Regular review of caps
The Singapore economy is stable, yet benchmarks are constantly changing. Wages can shift by five or 10 per cent in a matter of two years, or similar-sized inflation, will dictate that salary caps in the EA be reviewed on a regular basis to keep up with the times and ensure that workers do not wake up one morning to realize that the EA no longer covers them.
3.) Robust enforcement
Stories of employment shenanigans still abound, with illegal kickbacks, deductions, threats and cheating continuing to mar the good work done in legislation.
The new EA goes some way to address these issues, but an ear to the ground, regular policing, a well-developed infringement reporting system, and mandatory paper trails for pay transactions will help put a dent in illegal employment practices.
The fundamental idea of the union is to give labour, who would otherwise have no leverage or voice in the corporate decision-making process, the power to collectively bargain for wages and work conditions.
In a knowledge-based economy, key decision making still lies in the hands of select middle and upper management who have the responsibility to ensure the profitability of the company, and therefore determine remuneration, hire and fire, and dictate working conditions.
The distinction between what we call “executives” – junior, white collar jobs with or without specialist training – and manual labourers is disintegrating. What coolies and welders and truck drivers were during the period of Singapore’s industrialization is what designers and programmers and junior accountants and line managers have become today.
EA stipulations and definitions, first crafted in the industrial age, do not adequately take into account the struggles of many non-manager white collar workers in our post-Internet age, who on one hand do not have a say in their working conditions, while on the other hand do not have the proper collective bargaining power of unions to help them.
The times are a-changing, and our laws have to change to keep up with them.