Employment Guidelines for Contract Staff & Freelancers in Singapore

Since 2018, more than 200,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents were employed on term contracts, making up 11 per cent of the resident workforce – a rate that has mostly held steady in the last 10 years but is expected to raise in the future post pandemic as more companies evaluate the future of work and adopts more work from home and flexible work arrangements. With the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic and economic restructuring within the local and global economies, many HR consultants have observed that contract staff employment arrangements are likely to see an increasing trend.  

Many of these contract staff arrangement are also being done via an contract staff outsourcing arrangement with third party contractors or employment agencies. These agencies are also known as professional employer organization (PEO) and the candidates are placed with these agencies as Employer on Record (EOR). It would be useful to also refer to this article by an international legal firm Bird&Bird regarding the legalities and management responsibilities of parties to contract staff sourcing and EOR arrangements.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), have jointly developed a set of Tripartite Guidelines on the Employment of Term Contract Employees The intention of this guidelines for freelancers and contract staff is to provide some form of employee protection amongst the resident workers working as contract staff or freelancers in Singapore.

Amongst some of the provisions in the contract staff guidelines, contract workers in Singapore who have worked in the same firm for three months or more are entitled to statutory leave and other employment benefits. This change will make the employment benefits for contract staff closer and similar to permanent staff.

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, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

“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 contract staff term 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. Employers 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 for contract staff. If the clause was not included, employers can check the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) website on what they should do.

Notwithstanding the above, these are only “guidelines” and many employers or service buyers are not obliged to follow or comply. It is not enforceable or applicable on freelancers, or contractors working under “contract for service” arrangements. It is hope that in the future, the Singapore authorities may wish to enhance the guidelines for freelancers and contract staff with laws and regulations which can be enforced across all employers and service buyers.

Source : Ministry of manpower, Straits Times News

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