Amendments to the Employment Act were passed in Parliament on 12 November, but the changes did not include requiring employers to issue payslips to their workers, reported the Straits Times, 13 November 2013. The story on the previous day’s parliamentary sitting reported that the Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin explained to the House that the decision was prompted by strong objections from small and medium-sized enterprises, especially smaller business like retail shops in HDB estates.

However, he added that this would be “the direction we want to go”, indicating a persuasive approach.

“Not everything ought to be legislated at once as ultimately, we aim to change behaviour in a sustainable way,” he told Members of Parliament. A “pragmatic and phased”  approach will be adopted to give businesses time to adjust. He did not give a target date.

Earlier, during the debate on the changes, labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called for a timeframe to make it compulsory to issuepayslips.

Refusing to do it is how irresponsible employers “cover their tracks” when they underpay or flout the law, he said.

Low-wage workers are especially vulnerable as many do not get payslips.

— Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013, ‘Move for compulsory payslips deferred’.

Another proposal made by Zainal was for double pay to be given to workers when they work on a rest day, regardless of whether it was asked for by the employer or employee, and for employers to pay for the cost of medicine at outpatient clinics (they currently only pay for consultation, the Straits Times said).

Minister Tan dismissed Zainal’s concerns, saying that imposing too many conditions may affect low-wage workers’  employability.

The changes made to the Employment Act this round do not much affect low-wage migrant workers. The key changes include:

  • The scope of the Act is raised to anyone earning up to $4,500 per month;
  • Overtime pay is payable to employees who earn up to $2,500 per month, but the basis of calculation is capped at $2,250 per month;
  • No deduction from salary for any house accommodation, amenity or service unless it has been accepted by the employee;
  • Penalties for offences relating to punctuality of salary payments have been made explicit — a fine of at least $3,000, up to $15,000 or imprisonment up to six months (with higher sentences for repeat offenders)
  • A new schedule added to clarify computation of overtime pay;
  • Fine-tuning of maternity leave benefits;
  • Exclusion of cosmetic treatment from sick leave entitlements.

Most of the changes appear to be more relevant to middle-income employees. Changes important to low-wage foreign workers were few and far between.

At one point during the debate, the minister’s talk of finding the right balance between the interests of employers and employees saw a response from Zainal: “Where does MOM draw the line on which workers to protect and which to be left to fend for themselves out there in the real ‘harsh’ world?” (Straits Times, 13 Nov 2013, Finding right balance to protect workers, by Robin Chan)