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Written Answer by Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on the difference between workmen and non work-men in Employment Act

Notice Paper No. 184 of 2016 for the sitting on 11 May 2016 or after

Question No. 310 for Oral Answer

MP: Ms K Thanaletchimi

To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) if he can explain the need for a difference between workmen and non-workmen in the Employment Act in view of the future employment landscape; and (b) whether PMETs earning less than $4,500 who spend more than 50% of their time doing manual tasks can be regarded as workmen.

  1. The distinction between “workmen” and “non-workmen” in the Employment Act is a legacy issue. “Workmen” refers to blue-collar workers who operate machinery and vehicles or are involved in manual labour, such as cleaners, construction workers and labourers. “Non-workmen” refers to white-collar workers who are not in managerial or executive positions, such as clerks and receptionists. 
  2. The Employment Act draws this distinction primarily for Part IV of the Act, which relates to hours of work, rest days and annual leave. This is to take into account the differences in the nature of work between workmen and non-workmen. Our longer term intent is to remove this demarcation given the changing nature of our workforce. 
  3. For example, we have already taken steps to reduce the difference in coverage between these two groups. In the 2014 amendments to the Employment Act, we raised the salary threshold of non-workmen for Part IV coverage from $2,000 to $2,500 while holding the salary threshold of workmen constant at $4,500. This is to allow the salary threshold of non-workmen to catch up gradually with workmen, while balancing employers’ concerns about rise in business costs.
  4. Whether a worker is classified as a workman, a non-workman or a manager or executive depends on the specific nature of his work. The Employment Act clarifies that a worker with supervisory duties who actually does manual work for more than 50% of the time is considered a workman. However, this does not apply to any person who is employed in a managerial or executive position as specified in the Employment Act. The work-hour related provisions in Part IV of the Employment Act are less relevant to managers and executives whose jobs are often more outcomes based.
  5. That said, managers and executives enjoy protections under other parts of the Employment Act. In fact, we have progressively enhanced protections for managers and executives in our employment laws over the years. For example, we amended the Employment Act in 2008 to extend salary protection to managers and executives earning less than $2,500 a month, including access to the Labour Court to resolve salary-related disputes. This salary ceiling was raised to $4,500 in 2011 to cover a bigger group of managers and executives. In 2014, we again amended the Employment Act to cover managers and executives for non-salary issues such as sick leave benefits and protection against unfair dismissal. We have also amended our Industrial Relations Act to allow managers and executives more options for union representation at the workplace, most recently in 2015.
  6. In addition, MOM is now working with the State Courts to set up the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) early next year. The ECT will allow all managers and executives who now have no access to the Labour Court with a new, quick and expeditious channel to resolve statutory and contractual salary-related disputes, subject to certain claims limits. 
  7. Managers and executives form an important and growing part of our workforce. MOM, together with our tripartite partners, will continue to regularly review our employment laws to ensure that they are adequately protected.