So you just got an offer to a job and you’re excited to sign the contract? Hold on just one second… read through the contract carefully and ask about your rights and benefits first.
It is very Asian to turn a blind-eye to the contents of a contract, in an effort to show the boss you’re eager to work and care little for yourself. That’s not a sustainable attitude – show the employer that you care about your own profit too, we don’t work for free and we don’t work for fun.
Here are a few things you should be concerned about:
1. What are the maximum weekly hours of work?
By Statutory law, you are not allowed to work more than 44 hours a week. If you’re paid below $4500 a month, you are also entitled to overtime pay.
You are not obliged to do your employer any favours by working longer than you should. If he is profiting off your time, you should be duly compensated.
2. How easy is it to request flexible working arrangements?
At some point in time, we will have to face our own exigencies – little problems that crop up because of family and relationships. Does your company provide for 2 or 3 days of Eldercare leave? What is your supervisor’s attitude towards materity/paternity leave?
3. Hours of work and rest days
Generally speaking, you are not allowed to work more than 12 hours within a day. If you want to, you have to consent in writing and be known of your rights in Sections 38 and 40 of the Employment Act. If your employer wants you to work more than 12 hours, they have to apply in writing to the Ministry of Manpower.
If you earn below $4500 a month, you are also entitled to one rest day every week. Employers cannot compel you to work on a rest day.
Some contracts ask you to sign yourself to free overtime, eg. “Overtime is part and parcel of our work. You will be required to work overtime without additional compensation”. Be wary of such statements. There are conditions where it is mandatory for the employer to pay you overtime (say, if you earn below $2500, or if you are a “workman” earning below $4500).
4. What is the position you are signing for?
You must realise by now that if you earn $4500 and below, you’re given more protection by the Employment Act. The reason for this is because of a “Part 4” in the Act. Part 4 protects employees earning below $4500 and non-PMEs.
If your contract says you’re a “Manager”, “President”, “Professional”, “Principal” or any high-ranking tittle, and you’re not actually doing such work or making such decisions, you should question your prospective employer. In the case of dispute you may be challenged and may need to spend money in a civil suit to fight a case.
5. Redundancy pay
When you’ve spent many years working in your company, you want to know how much redundancy pay you will be getting.
The law does not stipulate how much you should be getting. If you have worked for less than 3 years with the company (by 1st April 2015, this is changed to 2 years), you are also not automatically entitled to retrenchment benefits.
A simple guideline would be one month’s salary for every year’s worth of service. (This is also a reason for you not to job-hop)
6. Financial strength of company
Ask also about your employer’s attitude to people – does their business depend heavily on a small portfolio of customers? What happens when these customers leave? Do they operate on a “hire and fire” attitude?
I have heard at least one employer saying this, “People are the easiest resource to deal with – just get rid of them if business is bad and hire back the monkeys when you need them!” Naturally, you don’t want to work for such a person.
7. What are the attitudes towards technology?
Mobile devices are creeping into our everyday lives, does your employer pay for your mobile services? And if they do, are you expected to respond at all times of the day? Find out your employer’s attitudes towards emails, Whatsapp and teleconferencing.
Unions in France have signed agreements with employers, discouraging work emails and messaging services after 6pm. Our own tripartite partners have not done this yet, but it is useful to discuss this with your boss before you ink a contract.
Do you know that your employer is liable to pay for injuries that happen to you during your course of work? If your boss doesn’t buy an insurance program for you, ask him/her what are the measures in place should the untoward happen?
It is unlawful for a company to deduct your salary in many circumstances. For example: being absent from work, breach of work safety rules, to pay for your medical fees, repatriation costs or as a penalty for terminating your contract early. Employers also cannot retain your salaries to “ensure good behaviour“. If there are such questionable clauses in your contract, bring them up and and tell your prospective employer that these clauses will not be enforceable in court – Statutory law will override private contracts.
When there is union presence, you can be assured that your employment rights will generally be fair, benefits and salaries well negotiated. You’ll also have an avenue to turn to if you have been treated unfairly.
If your company is not unionised, find out what your employers’ attitude is towards unions. It is illegal for a company to have anti-union practices. This means your employer cannot threaten you against joining a union or encouraging your colleagues to join a union. If you’d like to find out what unions can do for your company, or how you can unionise your company, go to the NTUC website and have a look.
Generally speaking, your employer should plan for your future. After all, he/she will be profiting off your services and is obliged to look after you.
Your salary should increase naturally each year in tandem with inflation, over and above your performance increases. Annual Wage Supplements should be paid out and a good company should also pay healthy bonuses, redistributing a share of their profits to their staff.
It is not too much to ask for. Businesses are in business to make money, otherwise they should shut and go home. If they are doing well, they should share it with the very people that have helped them do well. If they have not done well for an extended period of time, maybe they should shut and release these resources to better deserving companies.
Oh… the protections you see in the Employment Act did not come about naturally also. In another article later, I’ll write about how much work unions and civil service have spent negotiating, speaking with people on the ground, setting up of committees and commissions of study before all this came about.
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