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).

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