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New guidelines on leave benefits, notice for contract staff

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More term contract employees could be eligible for leave benefits under new guidelines released on Monday by the tripartite partners Manpower Ministry (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

Singapore

MORE term contract employees could be eligible for leave benefits under new guidelines released on Monday by the tripartite partners Manpower Ministry (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF).

Term contract employees, who make up about one in nine people in Singapore's workforce, are those who are employed on fixed-term contracts that will terminate upon the expiry of a specific term unless it is renewed.

The different types of leave include annual, sick and childcare, according to the guidelines.

The five-page document, which can be found on the MOM's website, aims to provide more clarity for employers on the granting of leave benefits to term contract employees that it has a long-term working relationship with, as well as the notice period that employers should give before the contract expires.

Employers may hire someone on a term contract if the job is only available on a temporary or project basis. Some employees prefer to enter into contract work to meet their own need for flexibility in their work schedule.

Under current laws, employees on term contracts are entitled to statutory leave benefits under the Employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act if they have worked a minimum of three consecutive months without a break in service. These include annual leaves, sick leaves, maternity leaves, paternity leaves, adoption leaves, childcare and extended childcare leaves.

However, some of these workers who have been with the same employer for a long time do not receive these benefits. This happens when they are hired on separate contracts that are each shorter than the minimum three-month service period, which are subsequently renewed with a break in between the contracts.

Based on figures from the MOM's 2015 labour force report, term contract employees form 11.3 per cent of Singapore's resident workforce, or about 202,400 people.

Under the new guidelines, employers are encouraged to treat contracts renewed within a month as continuous, and grant or accrue leave benefits based on the cumulative term of the contracts. This requirement would apply to contracts of 14 days or longer.

Employers could pro-rate annual leave, sick leave and childcare leave benefits based on the length of the term contract.

In the case of contracts that are renewed multiple times, the guidelines stated that it would be a "good practice" for both employer and employee to give "sufficient notice" before the contract's expiry on whether either party wishes to renew the contract.

This should be the same as the notice period required for early contract termination, or not less than a day's notice if the cumulative employment is less than 26 weeks.

SNEF executive director Koh Juan Kiat noted how employers value term contract employees for their "flexibility and contributions", adding that the guidelines would allow employers to offer term contracts that can better attract such workers.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari made the point that those on term contracts are as valuable as any other employee out there.

"The labour movement will work closely with our family of unions, associates, partners, social enterprises and related organisations, to ensure that employment practices are aligned with the guidelines," he said.