NTUC Labour MP Patrick Tay Teck Guan (assistant secretary-general of NTUC and an MP for West Coast GRC) highlighted that companies going through rough patches may use unfair practices to reduce work hours or even to get rid of workers.
Here are some unfair workplace practices he highlighted in a Straits Times article.
Cutting salaries and changing working hours without consultation
The first unfair workplace practice he shared is that some employers may resort to adjusting employees’ working hours and salaries without consulting them.
By right, this must be mutually agreed upon between both employer and employee. Employers should not unilaterally make changes to employment terms and conditions without the employee’s consent. This is included in the guidelines set out in the advisory on salary and leave arrangements during circuit breaker.
Any employer that needs to implement such changes during this period should do so only after having consulted the union (if the company is unionised) and/or its employees, and sought and obtained their consent. Agreed changes should then be clearly documented and acknowledged by both parties.
Dismissal due to ‘poor performance’
Another unfair workplace practice is that employers may try to get rid of employees by suddenly giving them poor performance ratings for doing the same job, even when they have always been graded well.
Employers cannot dismiss employees without notice for poor performance. If doing so, the onus is also on the employer to provide evidence of the poor performance.
Forcing employees to resign
To ‘force’ employees to resign, some employers will intentionally exclude an employee from meetings and remove the employee’s responsibilities, materially changing the employee’s original job scope.
Often, in such instances, the employee often feels isolated and will resign as a result.
Patrick Tay mentioned he knows of workers who have encountered instances where employers, in a bid to “cut costs”, disguise the retrenchment as a mere “contractual termination” of employment.
This means employers only need to serve notice and give notice pay, to avoid paying the employee a fair retrenchment package. When it is revealed that the very same position had actually been made redundant, the employee who was given notice had been robbed of what should have been rightfully paid out to him or her, in the form of a retrenchment package.
Some employers get away with it, perhaps because workers are not aware of their rights, or fear to take action. Some employers even provide notice pay and do not give any reasons for the contractual termination so as not to be challenged by unhappy employees, especially companies without a union inside.
Patrick shares “While I submit we can lobby for changes to the Employment Act, perhaps an interim measure, such as blacklisting by the Ministry of Manpower and withholding of government funding – for example, JSS – can provide some respite from such a potentially virulent trend of unfair employers who are, in fact, able to fork out the retrenchment payment(s).”
What can workers do?
Employees who are union members can approach their union for advice, log your case with NTUC U Portal’s Workplace Advisory or call NTUC Hotline: +65 6213 8008. You can visit TADM @ NTUC website for more information.
Non-union members can lodge a complaint with TADM.
What does the law say about retrenchments?
Retrenchment happens when an employee’s contract of service is terminated by the employer due to redundancy or any reorganisation of the employer’s profession, business, trade or work.
To prevent companies from looking to retrenchment as the first resort, the government has rolled out extensive support measures such as the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), which pays a substantial portion of workers’ wages for several months, thus helping companies with cash flow.
If there is no choice but to retrench, retrenchment benefits should be paid in accordance with the employment contract or collective agreement.
If there is no such prior agreement, tripartite advisories state that the quantum of retrenchment benefits should range from two weeks to one month’s salary per year of service.
Companies can refer to the recent advisory on retrenchment benefits on how to provide fair retrenchment benefits to retrenched workers, ensuring “fair retrenchment”, having early consultation with unions, early and open communication and employment facilitation for employees.
Other potential workplace issues that have arisen during Covid-19
Do work injury compensation policies cover incidents that happen at home?
Patrick Tay raises the concern on what sort of impact that working from home would have on work injury compensation insurance, in terms of scope, coverage and even premiums.
“Ultimately, if one is at home but at work, can one still file a work injury compensation claim in the event of injury – such as having a heart attack while on the laptop doing work or sustaining a back injury through a fall while walking to the toilet?
Considering how Covid-19 has reshaped what work looks like, and in the process, evolved the very definition of the workplace, the burden of proof has also, therefore, shifted to the worker.
Where previously workers in an office setting could perhaps rely on colleagues to bear witness and/or CCTV camera footage to substantiate their claim, it would now be more onerous for workers who may primarily work from home to be able to provide the same.
It is, therefore, timely and critical to review prevailing laws, regulations and policies, and overall compensation and benefits to ensure that workers are adequately protected and provided for.”
Lack of protection for trainees
The SGUnited traineeship initiative was rolled out for participating companies to take on new graduates and mid-career workers to boost their job prospects.
However, the relationship between the trainee and the company is not an employment relationship as Employment Act and other employment-related laws will not apply to them.
Although these trainees can take up workplace harassment cases with the State Courts (Protection from Harassment Court), what happens in the event of workplace grievance or work injury?
Patrick highlights that “Minimally, there should be certain levels of protection laid out for this group of workers, so they, too, have access to avenues of help and support. I also submit that these traineeship placements should encompass some form of basic insurance, which could be catered for under SGUnited or by the sponsoring employer.”
He has since filed parliamentary questions to address the above interests and welfare of workers and trainees.
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