In 2013, there were over 638,500 PMEs in Singapore comprising 31.1% of the resident workforce, up from 27.4% in 2003. 1st April 2014 spelt a new era for empowerment and protection for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) in Singapore and this is no April Fool's joke. All the while, there had been regular disgruntles by white collar professionals on the ground that they have been left to fend for themselves in Singapore's labour market with hardly any protection from our Employment Act.
All this is set to change after NTUC lobbied for more protection for PMEs, which resulted in the new amendments to the Employment Act, passed in Parliament on 12 November 2013. In force from 1st April 2014, these amendments aimed to protecting more workers, particularly the white-collar. Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin shared that up to 450,000 workers will get to benefit from greater protection under the amendments to the Employment Act.
Better Protection for More Workers
This is my favourite part! Non-workmen earning up to $2,500 and PMEs who earning up to $4,500 will be covered under the general provisions of the Employment Act, including redress against unfair dismissal, paid sick leave etc. However, the catch is that you will need to stay for at least a year in your job.
Employment standards and benefits also saw positive adjustments with reduction of authorised deductions of employees' salaries for accommodation, amenities and services from 50% to 25%. Employees are also better protected from retrenchment with the reduction of minimum employment period from 3 years to 2 years.
Making Sure Employers Comply!
Protection has no teeth without enforcement. The penalty for failure to pay salary in accordance with the EA has been raised. A first-time offence will be liable to a fine of between $3,000 and $15,000 and/or 6 months' jail. A subsequent offence will be liable to a fine of between $6,000 and $30,000 and/or 12 months' jail. The maximum composition fine will be increased from $1,000 to $5,000.
Assistance for employers will also be provided by MOM so there is no excuse for repeatedly infringing on the law and denying workers their due rights.
My Personal Verdict
While this is a step in the right direction, I agree with Bishan-Toa Payoh MP Hri Kumar Nair’s concerns that PMEs who are earning more than $4,500 are still left in the open. The S$4,500 cap was set when PMEs were covered for salary protection in 2011 but that was 3 years ago. I hope that the threshold will be revised to cover at least 80% of Singaporean PMEs. To encourage work life balance in Singapore, PMEs should also be covered under the working hours-related provisions in Part IV of the Act.
Many PMEs who have grievances may not know where the seek advice from. With the recent opening of NTUC’s second PME centre at One Marina Boulevard, and a third centre which is virtually accessible online, one key aim is to create more awareness among PMEs of their workplace rights and placement services.
PMEs in Singapore particularly have a lot of pride. Majority of them are not willing to walk into a PME Centre and be labelled by the society as unemployed individuals. To resolve that problem, the union has gone one step further to provide PME union members to the suite of PME resources online where they have access to legal primers at no charge, legal clinics, workplace advisory services and other membership privileges.
Although a lot has been done by our government & union to fight for stronger protection for our employees, many PMEs are still unaware and not keen to find out more about their rights. Many of my peers are confident that they can secure a job within 3 - 6 months should they get retrenched and leaving employment without a job waiting seems to be the in-thing now. Junior to Mid-Management PMEs may find it easy to find a new job and even switch specialisation but the same cannot be said of the more matured and senior level management PMEs.
I would advise all levels of PMEs to do an elaborate read up on the recent amendments and also get yourself registered as an PME union member with NTUC. You never know when protection will be extended to cover PMEs earning more than $4,500.
Let's continue to strive for better benefits and rights for Singaporean PMEs and low wage workers!