Singapore's employment laws have historically been
employer-friendly. In the early days of Singapore's
development, this was crucial to attract multi-national
corporations to Singapore.
However, in the past decade, there has been a shift towards
greater employee rights as well as greater protection of the
Singapore core workforce. Examples of greater employee rights are
the extension of maternity leave periods, and the introduction of
paternity leave which hitherto did not exist. Another example
involves Singapore's main employment legislation, which once
protected mostly blue collar workers but has now been expanded to
protect junior professional and managers earning below a certain
threshold monthly income.
These policy shifts bring challenges to human resource (HR)
professionals, and we share some of them below.
There has been an increasing level of unionisation in Singapore
in recent years, and significantly in 2015, legislation was
introduced to allow professionals and managers to be collectively
represented by rank-and-file unions.
While industrial relations in Singapore remain generally
peaceful and strikes are extremely rare, HR professionals still
face challenges since unions are additional entities that HR
professionals have to seek consensus with. Unionised companies in
Singapore typically sign collective agreements with unions that
contain a range of employment terms to protect the employees, and
negotiations on these terms between the companies and the unions
can sometimes be protracted.
Since 2009, the foreign workforce supply has been tightened in
Singapore, partly as a result of public feedback on the increasing
number of foreign employees in Singapore. The ratio of foreign
semi-skilled and mid-skilled workers to Singaporeans allowed in
certain industries was reduced, and this has caused manpower
shortages in some industries like the food and beverage
In 2014, the Ministry of Manpower also introduced a Fair
Consideration Framework to make sure that companies with more than
25 employees advertise professional jobs to Singaporeans for at
least 14 days before allowing such jobs to be filled up by foreign
professionals (with certain exceptions to jobs above a threshold
monthly salary). This entails additional responsibilities on HR
professionals. In cases of suspected foreigner bias, the Ministry
of Manpower may investigate and interview the company on why a
foreign employee was chosen instead of a Singaporean, and even
exercise its right to curtail future foreign manpower hiring by the
What the future holds
HR professionals can expect to face further challenges as
Singapore employment law's pro-employee shift continues. One
change in the pipeline is the introduction of the Employment Claims
Tribunal ("ECT") in April 2017. One category of employees
who will benefit from the setting up of the ECT is professionals
and managers earning more than S$4500 basic salary a month, as
currently any of their employment related claims can only be sought
through the civil courts, which is typically more time consuming
and more expensive. Companies and HR professionals should thus
start preparing themselves for the introduction of this new
tribunal by understanding its procedures and scope.
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