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.

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