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Employment Law in Singapore

Singapore’s key item of employment legislation is the Employment Act, which deals with basic issues such as employment contracts, termination, pay, working hours, part-time work, rest periods, annual leave, public holidays, maternity leave and childcare leave. The Act covers virtually all private sector employees apart from seafarers and domestic workers, though its provisions on working hours and rest periods do not apply to managers/executives or to other employees who earn more than a certain amount (see Working Time, Rest and Holidays). Other relevant laws include the Child Development Co-savings Act, Retirement and Re-employment Act, Workplace Safety and Health Act, Protection from Harassment Act, Industrial Relations Act, Trade Unions Act and Trade Disputes Act. Case law (especially that of the High Court) interprets this employment legislation. Unusually, there is an almost total absence of legislation prohibiting discrimination at work on any grounds.

Employment contracts play an important role in governing the employment relationship, as do collective agreements for a minority of employees.

A significant feature of employment regulation in Singapore is a wide-ranging system of “tripartism” — that is, co-operation among the Government, employers and trade unions. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) collaborate on issues such as pay and fair employment practices through bodies including the Singapore Tripartism Forum (STF), National Wages Council (NWC) and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

This process has produced tripartite guidelines on the implementation of employment legislation in various areas (eg wrongful dismissal and “retrenchment”), and tripartite “advisories” on good employment practices (eg on fixed-term contracts and harassment). These tripartite documents are not legally binding but employers are encouraged by the Government to comply with them, and the courts take them into account in some cases. The most notable example is TAFEP’s Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which deal principally with discrimination and recruitment/selection. The Government requires employers to observe these guidelines and imposes sanctions on non-compliant companies, notably by restricting their ability to obtain work passes for foreign workers. The MOM refers to the guidelines when addressing complaints of alleged unfair employment practices.

This article refers to employment law in the private sector only.

Temporary COVID-19 Crisis Measures (as at 24 June 2020)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government’s main measure to prevent crisis-related job losses has been a job support scheme providing wage subsidies to employers whose businesses have been adversely affected, covering up to 75% of the pay of employees who are Singaporean nationals. The scheme is currently due to expire at the end of August 2020. The Government has introduced a new requirement for employers with 10 or more employees to notify the Ministry of Manpower if they implement cost-saving measures that involve pay reductions of 25% or more for employees. In addition, the Government, employers and trade unions have taken a number of tripartite initiatives in relation to the crisis. Notably, they have updated their guidance to employers on “managing excess manpower” and “responsible retrenchment” (see Retrenchment) and issued advisories on pay and leave arrangements in the context of the pandemic, and on relevant workplace health and safety measures. The tripartite National Wages Council pay guidelines for 2020–2021 take into account the severe economic impact of Covid-19 (see General Pay Principles).

Employment Law in Singapore: Quick Facts
  • Recruitment and selection are subject to little statutory regulation, except for data protection aspects, but employers are expected to comply with a set of tripartite guidelines on relevant issues. Recruitment and Selection

  • Employers must comply with rules aimed at ensuring that they give Singaporean nationals fair consideration for job opportunities. Recruitment and Selection

  • Foreign nationals may be employed only if they have been granted a “work pass” by the Ministry of Manpower. Recruitment and Selection

  • An employment contract, known as a “contract of service”, is defined as any agreement, whether in writing or oral, express or implied, whereby one person agrees to employ another as an employee and the latter agrees to serve the employer as an employee. Employment Contracts

  • Employers must give all employees a written record of their key employment terms not later than 14 days after employment starts. Employment Contracts

  • Employers must pay employees at least once a month, directly into their bank account or by cash or cheque, and must provide detailed payslips and observe rules on deductions from pay. There is no statutory National Minimum Wage. Pay and Benefits

  • Employees cannot generally be required to work more than eight hours per day and 44 hours per week, though flexibility is permitted in certain circumstances. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Overtime must be paid at a rate at least 50% above the employee’s normal wage rate, and employees cannot generally work more than 72 hours of overtime per month. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees cannot generally be required to work for more than six consecutive hours without a rest break, and must be granted a weekly rest day. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Employees with at least three months’ service are entitled to paid annual leave, starting at seven days’ leave during the first year of service and rising to 14 days after eight years’ service. Working Time, Rest and Holidays

  • Working parents are entitled to take (wholly or partly) paid maternity leave (12–16 weeks), paid adoption leave (12 weeks), paid paternity leave (two weeks), paid childcare leave (two to six days per year) and unpaid infant care leave (six days per year). Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • Employees with at least three month’s service are entitled to paid sick leave. Parenthood and Work-life Balance

  • There is no general statutory prohibition of discrimination in relation to employment, though employers are required to comply with tripartite guidelines that seek to prevent discrimination on grounds of age, race, sex, religion, marital status/family responsibilities and disability. Equality and Discrimination

  • Harassment is a criminal offence and employers are encouraged to take into account tripartite advice on managing workplace harassment. Equality and Discrimination

  • Employees have a right to set up and join trade unions, and are protected from discrimination or dismissal for various trade union-related reasons. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Trade unions can gain recognition if a majority of employees in a bargaining unit are members. Recognised unions have collective bargaining rights. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Employees may strike only in the furtherance of a trade dispute within their trade or industry, and a trade union can hold a strike only if a majority of the members affected approve it in a secret ballot. Industrial Relations and Collective Rights

  • Employers have a general duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees, and numerous detailed duties in this area. Occupational Health and Safety

  • Employees may claim reinstatement or compensation if they believe their dismissal is “wrongful” — that is, without just cause or excuse — or for a specifically prohibited reason. Termination of Employment

  • Various special rules and considerations apply to dismissals on the grounds of redundancy or reorganisation, known as retrenchment. Termination of Employment

  • Minimum statutory notice periods apply if the employment contract does not deal with notice. Employers can dismiss employees without notice for misconduct. Termination of Employment

  • The statutory retirement age is 62 but once an employee reaches this age, the employer must generally offer to re-employ them until the age of 67. Termination of Employment

  • When there is a business transfer, employees’ employment contracts are automatically transferred to the new employer. Other Key Issues

  • Employers do not need to obtain employees’ consent to collect and use their personal data for a number of employment-related purposes. Other Key Issues