1 Legal framework

1.1 Are there statutory sources of labour and employment law?

The Employment Act 1968 is the main statute governing labour and employment law in Singapore. It covers all employees under a contract of service, including employees who are working under full-time, part-time, temporary or contract terms. However, the Employment Act does not cover:

  • seafarers;
  • domestic workers; or
  • any person belonging to a class of persons whom the minister of manpower may, by notification in the Gazette, declare not to be an ‘employee' for the purposes of the Employment Act.

The Employment Act sets out the minimum baseline for various key aspects of employment, including:

  • salary;
  • leave entitlement;
  • termination/dismissal;
  • retrenchment; and
  • maternity protection.

Additional protection (under Part IV of the Employment Act) is also afforded to specific categories of employees (eg, manual labourers) who earn below a certain basic monthly salary.

Apart from the Employment Act, other employment-related statutes govern specific aspects of employment, sectors and/or sub-categories of employees. Key statutes include:

  • the Central Provident Fund Act 1953 (contribution of funds to the Central Provident Fund accounts of employees);
  • the Child Development Co-Savings Act 2001 (parental pay/leave);
  • the Employment Claims 2016 (employment disputes);
  • the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990 (foreign employees in Singapore);
  • the Retirement and Re-employment Act 1993 (retirement age/re-employment of employees);
  • the Workplace Safety and Health Act 2006 (safety, health and welfare of persons at work in workplaces); and
  • the Work Injury Compensation Act 2019 (work-related injuries or diseases).

Singapore's employment-related statutes and subsidiary legislation are also supplemented by a slew of tripartite guidelines and advisories which promote best practices among employers. In particular, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices Guidelines are slated to be enshrined into law in 2022.

1.2 Is there a contractual system that operates in parallel, or in addition to, the statutory sources?

Singapore is a common law jurisdiction. If an employee is not covered by the Employment Act, the employee's employment terms will be governed by his or her specific employment contract (to which common law rules will apply). If an employee is covered by the Employment Act, the employer cannot impose terms in an employment contract that are less favourable than the provisions of the act. All terms and conditions that are less favourable than the provisions of the Employment Act are null and void. Conversely, if the contractual terms of an employment contract are more favourable than their equivalent provisions under the Employment Act, the former will apply.

1.3 Are employment contracts commonly used at all levels? If so, what types of contracts are used and how are they created? Must they be in writing must they include specific information? Are implied clauses allowed?

Employment contracts are widely used to govern employer-employee relationships at all levels. Typical employment contracts include:

  • permanent contracts (either full time or part time);
  • fixed-term contracts;
  • contracts for interns, apprentices or trainees; and
  • contracts for contingent workers.

Employment contracts are created in the same manner as any contract under Singapore law. A valid contract is created when:

  • there is an intention to create legal relations;
  • there is an offer and an acceptance;
  • there is consideration;
  • the parties have legal capacity to enter into a contract; and
  • the contract is not rendered ineffective by vitiating factors or illegality, and/or is not contrary to public policy.

It is highly advisable to record all employment terms in a written contract for clarity and certainty. Key terms include the employee's role, working hours, salary, benefits, leave allowances, confidentiality obligations and termination.

Employment contracts may nonetheless be implied if they fall within the following broad categories:

  • A statute states that its provisions are to be implied into the contract in question;
  • The facts show that it was the intention of the employer and employee to incorporate the relevant term;
  • A term ought to be implied into all existing and future contracts of the same nature; or
  • The term is universal, certain and consistent with the contract's express terms, and is recognised to be legally binding on the parties (ie, by custom).

2 Employment rights and representations

2.1 What, if any, are the rights to parental leave, at either a national or local level?

Parental leave and benefits are governed mainly by the Employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act 2001. There are also various schemes implemented by the Ministry of Social and Family Development – namely:

  • government-paid maternity leave (GPML);
  • government-paid paternity leave (GPPL);
  • government-paid maternity benefit (GPMB); and
  • government-paid paternity benefit (GPPB).

Under the Employment Act, every female employee who will be giving birth and/or has given birth is entitled to absent herself from work for a period of up to 12 weeks.

Under GPML, working mothers are entitled to up to 16 weeks of leave. Mothers are eligible for GPML as long as:

  • the child is a Singapore citizen or becomes a Singapore citizen within 12 months of the child's date of birth; and
  • the mother was working for an employer or was self-employed for a continuous period of at least three months prior to the child's birth.

Under GPPL, working fathers are entitled to up to two weeks of leave. Fathers are eligible for GPPL as long as:

  • the child is a Singapore citizen or becomes a Singapore citizen within 12 months of the child's date of birth;
  • the father was lawfully married to the mother of the child at some point between conception and before the child's birth or within 12 months of the child's date of birth; and
  • the father was working for an employer or was self-employed for a continuous period of at least three months prior to the child's birth.

Under the government-paid shared parental leave scheme, a mother who is eligible for GPML may elect to share up to four weeks of her maternity leave with her working husband and increase the husband's two weeks of paid paternity leave accordingly.

If a parent is not eligible for GPML/GPPL, he or she may still be eligible to receive benefits under GPMB and GPPB if he or she meets all the requirements of those schemes, including being employed/self-employed for at least 90 days in the 12 months preceding the child's date of birth.

2.2 How long does it last and what benefits are given during this time?

Please see question 2.1.

2.3 Are trade unions recognised and what rights do they have?

In order to enjoy the rights, immunities or privileges of a registered trade union, trade unions must first register with the Registry of Trade Unions and be recognised by an employer in the manner provided by statute.

Trade unions are highly regulated in Singapore under a series of laws. The main statutory sources are:

  • the Trade Unions Act 1940 and Trade Unions Regulations (registration, control, activities and proper management of trade unions and industrial actions);
  • the Trade Disputes Act 1941 (conduct of industrial action and lockouts);
  • Part III of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act 1955 (temporary provisions for the prevention of strikes and lockouts in essential services); and
  • the Singapore Labour Foundation Act 1977 (welfare of trade union members and their families).

Trade unions represent their members in collective bargaining, negotiations for a collective agreement and trade disputes. A ‘collective agreement' is a legally binding agreement between an employer and the trade union on an employee's terms and conditions of employment, which is usually valid for between two and three years. Trade unions also aid in the negotiation of benefits, including training-related allowances or grants, medical benefits, the payment of pro-rated variable bonuses and terms for retrenchment exercises.

If negotiations with a company fail, unions have a right to escalate trade disputes to the Industrial Arbitration Court or opt for industrial action. The Trade Disputes Act 1941 defines ‘industrial action' as:

  • an act or omission by employees in any trade or industry, acting in combination or under a common understanding, which would result in any limitation or restriction on, or delay in, the performance of any duties connected with their employment or a strike; or
  • a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding of a number of persons who are, or who have been, so employed to continue to work or to accept employment.

Registered trade unions may sue and be sued and be prosecuted under their registered names.

2.4 How are data protection rules applied in the workforce and how does this affect employees' privacy rights?

Personal data protection is regulated by the Personal Data Protection Commission, which may impose penalties on organisations that breach their obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA).

Organisations must fulfil the following key obligations under the PDPA:

  • Consent must be obtained before collecting personal data.
  • Personal information must only be used for purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances and, if applicable, for purposes that the individual has been informed of.
  • Where applicable, the organisation must notify the employee of the purposes of the collection, use or disclosure of an individual's personal data (as the case may be) before the collection, use or disclosure of the personal data.
  • Upon request, an organisation must provide the individual with details of:
    • the personal data about the individual that is in the possession or under the control of the organisation; and
    • the ways in which such personal data has been or may have been used or disclosed by the organisation in the year before the date of the request.
  • An organisation must:
    • develop and implement policies and practices that are necessary for it to meet its obligations under the PDPA; and
    • develop a process to receive and respond to complaints that may arise with respect to the PDPA.
  • An organisation must make a reasonable effort to ensure that personal data collected by it or on its behalf is accurate and complete if the personal data is likely:
    • to be used by the organisation to make a decision that affects the individual to whom the personal data relates; or
    • to be disclosed by the organisation to another organisation.
  • An organisation must protect personal data in its possession or under its control by making reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorised access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification or disposal of the personal data, and the loss of any storage medium or device on which personal data is stored.
  • Personal data must be retained only for as long as it is properly required for legal or business purposes.
  • Before personal data is transferred out of Singapore, measures must be in place to ensure that the recipient organisation will protect the personal data to a standard that is comparable to the protection under the PDPA.

However, an employer can process its employees' data without consent:

  • if such processing is reasonable for entering into an employment relationship with the individual or appointing the individual to any office; or
  • for evaluative purposes which include determining the suitability of an individual for continuing or terminating employment.

2.5 Are contingent worker arrangements specifically regulated?

No, independent contractors are not covered by the Employment Act. However, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices has published a Tripartite Standard on Contracting with Self-Employed Persons which specifies a set of fair and progressive employment practices for service contracts that all service buyers may choose to implement in the workplace. The Ministry of Manpower has also developed a key terms of engagement form template for organisations to use when entering into contracts with contingent workers.

Organisations that adopt the Tripartite Standards can use the ‘TS' logo in their publicity and recruitment materials, giving them a competitive edge.

Additionally, in 2021, the Ministry of Manpower convened an Advisory Committee on Platform Workers to look into strengthening protections for self-employed persons who work with platform companies to provide transport and delivery services – specifically, delivery persons, private-hire car drivers and taxi drivers – following the rise in the number of self-employed persons taking on such roles in recent years.

3 Employment benefits

3.1 Is there a national minimum wage that must be adhered to?

Singapore does not implement a mandatory national minimum wage model. Wages are generally determined by market forces and other relevant factors to be assessed by each employer, including skills, capabilities, competencies and the cost of living.

Singapore does, however, adopt a mandatory progressive wage model (PWM) which sets a minimum monthly wage applicable to all Singaporean citizens and Singaporean permanent residents working in specific sectors (ie, cleaning, security and landscaping) – irrespective of whether they work full time, part time or temporarily. The PWM is slated to expand to include workers in other sectors (eg, retail, food services and waste management) by 2023. Under the PWM, the quantum of wages varies depending on the sector and role of each worker.

Employers that hire local workers in the aforesaid sectors must adhere to the PWM in order to obtain or renew their relevant licences/registration statuses. Such employers must also send their workers regularly for training courses/workshops to upgrade their skills and productivity. These courses are generally subsidised by the government under the Workfare Skills Support Scheme.

Employers that hire foreign workers must meet certain criteria before they are allowed to do so. This includes meeting the minimum qualifying salary threshold to obtain a new or renew an existing foreign worker's Employment Pass (EP) or S Pass. Employers must also pay all their local employees a local qualifying salary (LQS). The LQS determines the number of local employees who can be used to calculate an employer's Work Permit and S Pass quota entitlement. The LQS is meant to deter employers from hiring local employees on token salaries in order to access foreign workers.

3.2 Is there an entitlement to payment for overtime?

For employees covered by the Employment Act, an employer must pay workmen who are in receipt of a salary not exceeding S$4,500 a month, and all other employees (who are not workmen, managers or executives) who receive a salary not exceeding S$2,600 a month, at least 1.5 times the hourly basic rate of pay for overtime work (as defined under Section 38 of the Employment Act). Payment must be made within 14 days of the last day of the salary period.

3.3 Is there an entitlement to annual leave? If so, what is the minimum that employees are entitled to receive?

Employees covered by the Employment Act who have been working for a minimum of three months are entitled to paid annual leave. The minimum annual leave entitlement is dependent on how many years of service the employee has served with his or her employer. The minimum annual leave entitlements range from seven days for one year of service up to 14 days for eight years or more of service.

3.4 Is there a requirement to provide sick leave? If so, what is the minimum that employees are entitled to receive?

Employees who are covered by the Employment Act are entitled to sick leave if they have been working for their employer for at least three months and have informed or tried to inform their employer within 48 hours of their absence. Sick leave must be provided if the employee is certified as unfit for work by a medical practitioner registered under the Medical Registration Act or Dental Registration Act. Employees are also entitled to paid hospitalisation leave.

Employees who have been working for a minimum of six months for their employer are entitled to 14 days of sick leave and, if hospitalisation is necessary, to 60 days of hospitalisation leave, inclusive of the 14 days of sick leave.

Employees who have worked for their employer for a period of between three months and six months will have pro-rated sick leave entitlements.

3.5 Is there a statutory retirement age? If so, what is it?

At present, the minimum retirement age is 62 years. In accordance with the Retirement and Re-employment Act 1993, employers must offer re-employment to eligible employees who turn 62, up to age 67, to continue their employment in the organisation. The minimum retirement age and re-employment ages are slated to increase in 2022 to 63 years and 68 years respectively (although this has yet to take place as at the time of writing).

4 Discrimination and harassment

4.1 What actions are classified as unlawfully discriminatory?

Article 12(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore prohibits discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the grounds of religion, race, descent or place of birth:

  • in any law;
  • in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority; or
  • in the administration of any law relating to:
    • the acquisition, holding or disposition of property; or
    • the establishment or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.

However, there are currently no specific workplace anti-discrimination laws that cover all employees/directly regulate workplace discrimination, apart from a few limited categories of employees (see question 4.2). Nonetheless, the government announced in 2021 that it intends to enshrine into law the existing principles and guidelines relating to fair employment practices.

At present, all employers are expected to comply with fair employment practices set out in the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices' (TAFEP) Guidelines and the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). In particular, employers should observe the following principles on fair employment practices:

  • Recruit and select employees on the basis of merit (eg, skills, experience or ability to perform the job), regardless of age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities or disability;
  • Treat employees fairly and with respect, and implement progressive human resource management systems;
  • Provide employees with equal opportunity to be considered for training and development based on their strengths and needs, to help them achieve their full potential;
  • Reward employees fairly based on their ability, performance, contribution and experience; and
  • Abide by labour laws and adopt the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

The TAFEP is an independent agency set up by the tripartite partners (the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation) which has the power to investigate cases of workplace discrimination. The TAFEP Guidelines set out (non-exhaustive) examples of unlawful discrimination in the workplace, including:

  • issuing job advertisements and job application forms with selection criteria unrelated to the candidate's qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience, without specifying why such criteria are required (eg, specifying a preferred candidate age group, gender, race, religion or marital status);
  • asking questions unrelated to the candidate's qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience, and/or applying inconsistent, non-transparent and discriminatory selection criteria during job interviews;
  • failing to implement a fair grievance handling procedure in a workplace;
  • failing to conduct an inquiry to allow an employee to present his or her case before making a decision on dismissal; and
  • failing to pay an employee on the last day of employment or within three working days of the date of dismissal.

4.2 Are there specified groups or classifications entitled to protection?

Singapore laws currently protect specific categories of employees against discrimination by employers. The main groups are:

  • employees who have been wrongfully dismissed under the Employment Act (see question 5);
  • pregnant employees who have worked for their employees for at least three months, who benefit from maternity protection against retrenchment and dismissal without sufficient cause during pregnancy;
  • older employees – employers are prohibited from retiring their employees on grounds of age before the statutory retirement age (currently 62), and must offer re-employment to eligible employees who reach the statutory retirement age to continue their employment in the organisation up to 67 years (see question 3.5);
  • employees who must perform National Service (NS) duties under the Enlistment Act 1970 – these employees are protected from being discriminated against, disadvantaged or dismissed by a present or prospective employer for having to perform such duties. This includes:
    • requiring employers to grant leave of absence to NS employees when they are called upon to perform their NS duties;
    • ensuring that an NS employee is not dismissed for performing NS duties; and
    • ensuring that an NS employee is not made worse off financially because of his obligations to fulfil his NS duties; and
  • employees taking industrial action – employers are not allowed to dismiss or threaten to dismiss an employee, or injure or threaten to injure him or her in his or her employment or alter or threaten to alter his or her position to his or her prejudice, by reason of any conduct taken under Section 82 of the Industrial Relations Act 1960. This includes:
    • becoming an office or member of a trade union; and
    • being entitled to the benefit of a collective agreement or an award.

4.3 What protections are employed against discrimination in the workforce?

Employees who encounter workplace discrimination can contact the TAFEP for advice and assistance. Upon receiving a complaint, the TAFEP will contact the relevant employer and work with it to:

  • improve its employment practices;
  • put in place fair and responsible employment practices; and
  • ensure that the employer adopts the TAFEP Guidelines.

If the employer is uncooperative or persistently fails to improve its employment practices, the TAFEP will refer the case to the Ministry of Manpower for further investigation. During investigations, the employer will be given an opportunity to present its case. If the complaint is validated by the Ministry of Manpower, the employer will generally be given the opportunity to rectify its actions. Failure to do so will result in administrative action being taken, including curtailment of the employer's work pass privileges.

In addition, if an employee has been dismissed on discriminatory grounds, he or she may also file a claim against the employer. Employers that wrongfully dismiss employees on discriminatory grounds may be ordered to compensate and/or reinstate such employees to their formal employment (see questions 4.4 and 4.5).

4.4 How is a discrimination claim processed?

Employees are encouraged to communicate directly with their employers first if they feel that they have been unfairly discriminated, through internal protocols/channels.

If a dispute cannot be resolved internally, employees may file a wrongful dismissal claim under the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) if they feel that they have been dismissed on discriminatory grounds. Any such claim should be filed within one month of the last day of employment if such dismissal was wrongful. Under the TADM, employers and employees must undergo mediation under the Tripartite Mediation Framework.

If mediation fails under the Tripartite Mediation Framework, the employee is entitled to file a claim in the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT). Undergoing mediation is a precondition before an employee can file a claim in the ECT.

4.5 What remedies are available?

Potential remedies include:

  • improvement of the employer's employment practices and the adoption of the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices;
  • voluntary rectification of the employer's actions;
  • curtailment of the employer's work pass privileges by the Ministry of Manpower; and
  • if it is established that the employee suffered from unlawful dismissal, a direction from the minister of manpower or order by the ECT (as the case may be):
    • to reinstate the employee in his or her former employment;
    • to pay the employee an amount that is equivalent to the salary that he or she would have earned had he or she not been unlawfully dismissed by the employer; and/or
    • to pay an amount of money as compensation to the disgruntled employee.

4.6 What protections and remedies are available against harassment, bullying and retaliation/victimisation?

There are no specific laws relating to anti-harassment and bullying in the workplace. Employees who face harassment, bullying and retaliation/victimisation in the workplace may nonetheless rely on other statutory rights that govern such misconduct in general. This includes filing a police report for harassment and/or commencing civil action under the Protection from Harassment Act 2014.

5 Dismissals and terminations

5.1 Must a valid reason be given to lawfully terminate an employment contract?

Employers and employees can terminate an employment contract without reason, so long as proper written notice or salary in lieu of notice is given, in accordance with the requirements under the employment contract. If no notice period is specified in the employment contract, the notice period will depend on the employee's length of service.

An employment contract can also be lawfully terminated without reason when it meets its natural end – that is, once the work specified in the contract is completed or when the period for which the contract was made has expired.

Employers may lawfully dismiss an employee without notice only if the employee has committed misconduct that is inconsistent with the fulfilment of the express or implied conditions of the employee's service. What amounts to serious misconduct depends on the specific context/facts of each case, including:

  • the background of the employment relationship;
  • the employee's role; and
  • the employment contract, viewed in totality.

Examples of misconduct include:

  • theft;
  • dishonesty;
  • disorderly or immoral conduct at work; and
  • insubordination.

Before an employer can lawfully dismiss an employee for misconduct, the employer should first conduct a formal inquiry. Although there is no fixed procedure for the conduct of the formal inquiry, the Ministry of Manpower encourages employers to:

  • inform the employee of the alleged misconduct;
  • give the employee an opportunity to present his or her case; and
  • ensure that the person hearing the inquiry is not in a position which may suggest bias.

The Employment Act provides that an employer may suspend the employee from work for a period of up to one week during the inquiry, or longer if approval is obtained from the commissioner for labour.

Depending on the terms of the contract, employees may be entitled to certain remuneration/benefits upon their employment contract expiring or being terminated. Employers should thus clearly state the grounds on which the employment contract has been terminated (eg, by termination by notice/termination due to misconduct as defined under the employment contract). Extra care should be taken to specify the precise clause(s) of the employment contract upon which the contract has been terminated. If an employer chooses to rely on its express contractual rights to terminate an employee under a specific term of the employment contract, the employer cannot then subsequently argue that the employment contract was retrospectively terminated due to the employee's repudiatory breach of contract under common law.

5.2 Is a minimum notice period required?

A minimum notice period is usually required for the lawful termination of an employment contract with notice. The notice period usually depends on the terms of the employment contract. Section 10 of the Employment Act provides that the notice period must be the same for the employer and employee. If the contract does not specify a notice period, the notice period will depend on the employee's length of service. Section 10 of the Employment Act also provides that the notice to terminate the service of a person who is employed under a contract of service must be at least:

  • one day's notice if the person has been so employed for less than 26 weeks;
  • one week's notice if the person has been so employed for 26 weeks or more but less than two years;
  • two weeks' notice if the person has been so employed for two years or more but less than five years; and
  • four weeks' notice if the person has been so employed for five years or more.

Notice must be given in writing and may be given at any time. The notice period includes the day on which notice is given, public holidays, rest days and non-working days.

There are exceptions to this general rule. First, notice may be waived by mutual consent recorded in writing between the employer and employee. Second, compensation may be paid by either the employer or employee in lieu of notice. Third, both the employer or employee may terminate the contract without notice if the other party has wilfully breached a condition of the employment contract.

5.3 What rights do employees have when arguing unfair dismissal?

Wrongful/unfair dismissal occurs when an employee was dismissed without just or sufficient cause. This includes:

  • dismissal on discriminatory grounds based on age, race, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities or disability;
  • dismissal to deprive an employee of benefits or entitlements (eg, to deprive an employee of her maternity benefits); and
  • dismissal to punish an employee for exercising an employment right (eg, dismissing the employee after he or she has submitted a mediation request to the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) for salary-related claims).

Employees who believe that they have been wrongfully or unfairly dismissed may file a wrongful dismissal claim at the TADM within one month of their last day of employment. For dismissals without notice, the employer bears the burden of proving that the dismissal was not wrongful. For dismissals with notice or compensation in lieu of notice, the employee bears the burden of proving that the dismissal was wrongful.

If the wrongful dismissal claim cannot be resolved at the TADM, it may be referred to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT). If the ECT judge finds that a dismissal is wrongful, the employer may be ordered to:

  • reinstate the employee to his or her former job;
  • pay the employee any income lost due to the wrongful dismissal; and/or
  • pay the employee compensation.

Employees can also submit an appeal to the minister for manpower if they feel that they have been wrongfully dismissed due to their age or have been denied re-employment.

5.4 What rights, if any, are there to statutory severance pay?

There are no strict entitlements to statutory severance pay in Singapore. Nonetheless, all employers that are retrenching employees must do so responsibly and fairly, in accordance with all relevant guidelines/advisories, including:

  • the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment; and
  • the Tripartite Guidelines on Mandatory Retrenchments Notifications.

Under the Employment Act, employees who have served the company for at least two years are eligible for retrenchment benefits. Employers are encouraged to pay an ex-gratia payment out of goodwill if they intend to retrench an employee who has served the company for less than two years.

The amount of retrenchment benefit depends on the terms of the individual employment contract or collective agreement (for unionised companies). If there are no such provisions, any such retrenchment benefit will be determined by negotiation between the employee and the employer/trade union.

The prevailing norm is to pay a retrenchment benefit of between two weeks' and one month's salary per year of service, depending on the company's financial position and the relevant industry. In unionised companies where the amount of retrenchment benefit is stated in the collective agreement, the norm is one month's salary for each year of service.

6 Employment tribunals

6.1 How are employment-related complaints dealt with?

Employees are encouraged to communicate directly with their employers first if they have any employment-related complaints, through internal protocols/channels.

If the dispute cannot be resolved internally, the employee may approach the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) for assistance. Any salary-related claim should be filed:

  • within one year of the dispute arising, if the employee is still employed; or
  • within six months of the employee's last day of employment, if the employee is no longer employed.

Any dismissal-related claim should be filed within one month of the last day of employment. Any pregnant employee who feels that she was wrongfully dismissed without being paid maternity benefits should file her claim within two months of the date of her post-partum confinement.

Under the TADM, employers and employees must undergo mediation under the Tripartite Mediation Framework. The following issues are covered under the Tripartite Mediation Framework:

  • employment statutory benefits (eg, salary arrears, overtime pay, public holiday and rest day pay, maternity and other leave);
  • re-employment issues;
  • breach of individual employment contracts;
  • payment of retrenchment benefits; and
  • wrongful dismissal issues.

If mediation fails under the Tripartite Mediation Framework, the employee is entitled to file a claim in the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT). Undergoing mediation at the TADM is a precondition before an employee can file a claim in the ECT.

If the employee's claim relates to any violation by the employer of the provisions of the Employment Act, the employee may also file a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower using his or her SingPass, pursuant to the procedures and timeframes set out in the Employment Act. Employment act violations include, but are not limited to, issues on:

  • salary;
  • annual leave and sick leave;
  • public holiday entitlements;
  • hours of work;
  • overtime; and
  • rest days.

Employees should prepare supporting documents to support their complaint, such as:

  • the employment contract;
  • payslips;
  • Central Provident Fund statements;
  • bank statements;
  • a resignation or termination letter;
  • timesheets or punch cards; and
  • medical certificates or medical bills.

6.2 What are the procedures and timeframes for employment-related tribunals actions?

Please see question 6.1

7 Trends and predictions

7.1 How would you describe the current employment landscape and prevailing trends in your jurisdiction? Are any new developments anticipated in the next 12 months, including any proposed legislative reforms?

Singapore's labour market is recovering well from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with total employment expanding in the fourth quarter of 2021. The unemployment situation brought about by the pandemic has also improved and retrenchment rates have declined significantly from 2020 to 2021.

In Budget 2022, the government announced various measures with the objectives of:

  • supporting employers and workers;
  • strengthening the complementarity of Singapore's foreign workforce;
  • strengthening retirement adequacy;
  • enhancing support for migrant workers and their employers; and
  • supporting fairness in workplaces.

From September 2022, firms applying for new Employment Passes (EPs) for foreign professionals are slated to pay them a minimum monthly wage of S$5,000, up from the previous salary threshold of S$4,500 (which was increased from S$3,900 in May 2020). This move is meant to ensure that incoming EP holders are comparable in quality to the top one-third of the local professional, manager, executive and technician workforce.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices Guidelines will also be enshrined into law as part of Singapore's commitment to fighting workplace discrimination. This move will give authorities a wider range of options to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, including tackling unfair hiring practices against Singaporeans. The government also plans to set up a tribunal to handle workplace discrimination claims specifically.

8 Tips and traps

8.1 What are your top tips for navigating the employment regime and what potential sticking points would you highlight?

Care should be taken by both employers and employees when negotiating and drafting employment contracts. Ensuring that employment contracts are clear and comprehensive is the most effective way to prevent disputes in relation to, and/or arising from, an employment relationship.

Prior to termination of an employment contract, employers should take extra care to ascertain whether any misconduct has been committed prior to such termination, as this may affect the grounds that the employer can rely on to terminate the employment contract and the benefits/repercussions arising thereunder.

Both employers and employees should seek to resolve disputes amicably before commencing any legal action. Under the Rules of Court 2021 (effective 1 April 2022), it is now compulsory for a party to make an offer of amicable resolution before commencing legal action, unless the party has reasonable grounds not to do so. Such offers must be open for acceptance within a reasonable period of time and, in any case, for at least 14 days, unless the parties agree otherwise. The Singapore courts are also empowered to order parties to attempt to resolve the dispute by amicable resolution.

If an employee chooses to file a complaint with the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management, both employer and employee must attempt mediation before they can file a complaint with the Employment Claims Tribunal.

Employers should always strive to be above board and act in line with the various laws, guidelines and advisories issued. Both employers and employees are encouraged to seek legal advice and/or consult the Ministry of Manpower if they are in doubt, and especially before taking any drastic steps.

Ultimately, Singapore's employment regime aims to balance fairness to both employers and employees, while also affording flexibility in employment practices based on prevailing market trends and conditions. The Ministry of Manpower functions as an effective watchdog alongside other supporting statutory boards, trade unions and complementary organisations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.