Why should you be worried by the 5 comments by SNEF

After a consultation with 1000 employers, the Singapore National Employer Federation(SNEF) arrived to 5 anti-employee comments in the on-going review of the Employment Act by the Ministry of Manpower.

1) Proposal to change the existing over-time regime
SNEF propose that time-off in-liue of over-time hours could be given instead of hourly payment, so employers could “better manage costs, fluctuating business cycles and limited manpower”

2) OT pay for white collar workers be crafted in “employer-friendly terms”
Reiterating that employment costs will increase when white collar workers get OT pay, SNEF wants the Employment Act to be written in a pro-employer manner such that employers could implement them in a “flexible” way. SNEF did not explain in details.

3) Increase employment probation period to 1 to 2 years
SNEF proposed that there be a minimum service period for reinstatement appeals. Currently all confirmed employees are able to lodge an unfair dismissal appeal for reinstatement. Typically, the probation period is 6 months, subjected to every company’s discretion. But if SNEF gets their way, the probation period for employees will be 1 to 2 years.

4) Protection of low wage and contract workers should not raise compliance costs “too drastically and quickly”
SNEF did not explain in which instance did the compliance costs increased “drastically and quickly” since protection of low wage and contract workers in Singapore is almost non-existent.

5) Give employers greater rights and flexibility in managing HR benefits
SNEF wants the government to give the employers more rights and flexibility in managing employees’ benefits.

The 5 comments were particularly timed in light of the recent proposal by the NTUC to make employers pay OT hours clocked by white collar workers.  The current labor policies legislate that only blue-collar workers are able to claim for OT pay, while the rest become exploited by employers to work unpaid OT hours. Along with the SNEF, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises(ASME) has also expressed dissatisfaction over the NTUC proposal. It is understood that the two employer-interest groups strongly objected to the proposal as profits of the employers will be significantly affected if white collar workers are paid for their OT work, where 9 in 10 workers work past their official working hours according to the recent employment survey by Jobstreet [Source].

The recent increase in regulations to the Employment Act by the Ministry of Manpower legislated a number of policies that will give employers lesser freedom especially in HR benefits. Most employers were unaccustomed to the changes because of the lack of regulations they enjoyed in the past decades, resulting in exploitation of workers and triggering a series of low employment confidence like falling productivity, rising staff turn-over rate, declining employee loyalty, absence of work-life balance and depressed salaries. Such errant employment trends is common in Singapore because there is no independent workers unions to represent Singapore’s workers. The NTUC is managed by Ministers and MPs of the ruling PAP government, who often portray themselves as “pro-business”. Median salaries for the bottom 20% have been stagnant over the past decade [Source] while the employers chart record profits over the same period. The recent calls to increase salaries have been met with much objections of the employers with some threatening inflation of goods and services and pushing the blame to the workers for demanding higher salaries.

Low income workers in Singapore often have little or nothing left after paying off the living expenses in Singapore. Many like Mrs Tan [Source], do not visit a doctor even when they fell sick because their employers do not pay if they don’t work. Aside from exploiting low income workers, employers in Singapore also have a tendency to complain to the government or threaten inflation whenever they are not making enough profits. Unlike businesses in other countries, none of the Singapore’s SMEs manage to innovate, raise productivity, expand overseas and grow into the multi-national company status.

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