Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Contract workers get greater clarity on leave benefits and notice period with new guidelines

Contract workers entitled to leave perks
Sufficient notice should also be given if contract is not renewed, state new guidelines
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2016

Contract workers who have worked in the same firm for three months or more are entitled to statutory leave benefits.

It is also good practice for both employers and employees to give sufficient notice if either side decides not to renew the contract.

These clarifications were made under new guidelines released yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the labour movement and the Singapore National Employers Federation, which noted that contract workers are "a small but important part of the workforce".

Last year, 202,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents were employed on term contracts, making up 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce - a rate that has mostly held steady in the last 10 years.

Some contract workers working for the same employer for a long time do not currently enjoy benefits such as annual leave, sick leave or childcare leave, as they are on separate contracts shorter than three months and renewed with a break in between, the statement added.

"Hopefully, these guidelines can help close the loophole where fixed-term employees can be short- changed by unscrupulous employers who deliberately break their contracts to deny them their statutory employment benefits," said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari.

Under the guidelines, employers are encouraged to treat contracts renewed within a month as continuous, and grant leave benefits based on the cumulative term of contracts, for those of 14 days or more. Bosses could pro-rate leave based on the cumulative duration of the contract.

For instance, an employee working for the same firm on three consecutive month-long contracts is entitled in his fourth month to benefits like two days of paid annual leave, based on seven days of paid annual leave a year. He qualifies as long as he does not take a combined break of a month or longer in the three months. The breaks do not count towards his length of service.

Employers should keep to the notice period for early termination in the contract, according to the guidelines. If the clause was not included, employers can check the MOM website on what they should do.

Mr Zainal said the new guidelines "must be monitored closely for adherence". A legislative approach should be considered if moral suasion did not work, he added.

Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resource Institute, welcomed the guidelines, saying members have asked how to administer leave for temporary staff.

A 64-year-old cleaner, who gave his name only as Mr Eng, has been on several contracts - of one and three months in duration - for the same employer in the past year, and did not know he is entitled to leave.

He said: "I will ask my boss about it. Hopefully, they will allow me to backdate my leave and take a couple of days off so I can stay at home and spend time with my wife."

Uphold rights for contract staff
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2016

Bosses should extend paid leave to contract workers who have been with them for at least three months, said new guidelines released on Monday by the Manpower Ministry, labour movement and Singapore National Employers Federation.

With the number of people choosing or forced to work on a contract basis set to grow, the issue of benefits can only gain traction.

Currently, some workers are on three-month contracts with one-week breaks between them, and some employers take advantage of this by not offering them leave.

Depending on the arrangement, they may not get paid for the week that they do not work.

The guidelines say such contract workers should be entitled to leave days, if they did not take more than a month's break in between the minimum period of three months. Bosses should regard contracts renewed within a month as continuous.

It is a move that will benefit 11.3 per cent of the resident workforce, or 202,400 Singaporeans and permanent residents employed on term contracts, based on last year's figures.

If adhered to, the guidelines can help stamp out errant leave practices, said Mr Zainal Sapari, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

In a strongly worded Facebook post on Monday, Mr Zainal said that the guidelines can "close the loophole where fixed-term employees can be short-changed by unscrupulous employers who deliberately break their contracts to deny them of their statutory employment benefits".

He also suggested that the guidelines be legislated "if moral suasion is not achieved".

Besides leave benefits, the tripartite partners also said that it is a good practice for both employers and employees to keep to the notice period for early termination in the contract.

While the guidelines currently serve but a small part of the workforce, they are the first step - and just the first step - in granting better protection for the growing body of freelancers and contract workers in the economy.

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