5 employment laws that benefit the part-time worker

Donning the uniform that she has worn over the last six years, Madam Leong Sweet Mooi, 61, prepares to leave her house to start her five-hour work shift as a cashier at a local supermarket. She works six days a week. "Older folks like me can't work for too long because it's draining on the body. However, it's still good to keep working so that the mind and body are kept active."

For freelance Concert Photographer, Alvin Ho, 28, it was about exploring his passion and having a work-life balance. "Going freelance allows me to combine both my passion for photography and my love for music seamlessly. I get to be in charge of my own work schedule and also have time for the finer things in life."

A part-time employee has a contract of service and works less than 35 hours a week

Madam Leong and Alvin are just two examples of the growing labour force in Singapore who are deliberately choosing part-time or flexible work arrangements over full-time employment.

A 2015 report released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) estimates the number of part-time employees in Singapore to be around 223,100. This is a huge jump from the 156,200 part-time employees estimated in 2009.

Among the part-time workers in Singapore, the majority comprises of youths between 15-24 years old and those over 60 years old. Common occupations include office clerks, retail assistants, kitchen assistants and service crew.

To qualify as a part-time employee, your working hours should not exceed 35 hours per week under a job contract.

If you fall under this category, or are intending to make the switch to part-time employment, here are five laws that protect your employment rights.

1. Employment Act

The Employment Act is Singapore's main labour law. It ensures that local employees receive basic terms such as a wage and rest days.

You are covered if you are a full-time, part-time or contract worker with a monthly salary not exceeding S$4,500–this excludes managers, seamen, domestic workers, statutory board employees and civil servants. Therefore, ensure that your salary, working hours, annual and medical leave (if applicable) and overtime pay are clearly stated in your job contract. This will protect you in the event of any employment disputes.

Generally, for common work arrangement of five days or less in a week, you can work up to nine hours per day with at least a 45 minutes break in between. It is also illegal for you to work more than 12 hours a day–unless under special circumstances such as an accident or security threat.

For those who work under a long-term contract or part-time basis, you are also entitled to one rest day for every five consecutive days of work per week. The Act also entitles part-timers who complete three months of service to annual leave, paid sick leave, maternity/paternity leave as well as childcare leave.

2. Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme

The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) Scheme supplements the income and Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings of working Singapore Citizens aged 35 years and above. To be eligible, your gross monthly income must not be more than S$1,900 and you must have worked for at least two months within the three months period prior to the assessment month (i.e. For the assessment in June, an employee must have worked for any two months within the period of Jan - March). The full list of qualifiers can be found on the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme website.

It was announced at Budget 2016 that the gross monthly income cap will be increased to S$2,000 from January 2017. As of now, the WIS payouts are quarterly. Come January 2017, this will be changed to monthly.

Depending on your age and income, employees who qualify can receive up to a maximum of S$2,333 in WIS payouts per year. Freelancers are eligible under this scheme as well.

If your employer contributes to your CPF regularly, the government will automatically assess your eligibility - you do not need to do anything.

3. Central Provident Fund (CPF) Contributions

For CPF contribution to be made to employees, two criteria must be fulfilled: they must be Singapore citizens or Permanent Residents (PR) and draw a salary of more than S$50 per month. This is regardless of whether employees are working full-time or part-time.

If you are 55 years old and below, with a monthly salary of S$750 or more, 20% of your pay cheque is channeled to your CPF account while your employer contributes another 17%. CPF savings can be used to pay off housing, hospitalisation and medical fees as well as help you set aside money for retirement.

For Madam Leong, she appreciates the contributions from her past and current employers. "I'm glad that I have had CPF contributions from my employers all these years. My CPF savings will come in handy to provide for my basic needs and lifestyle when I retire in a few years time."

Madam Leong, a part-time cashier, receives CPF contributions, annual leave and performance bonuses from her employer.

What about freelancers then? CPF treats freelancers as self-employed workers and states that as long as they are Singapore citizens earning an annual Net Trade Income (NTI) of more than $6,000, they must contribute to Medisave. NTI refers to your gross trade income minus all business expenses, capital allowances and trade losses. This ensures that you will have sufficient Medisave savings for your future healthcare needs.

4. Contractual Disputes Settlement

In cases where employers breach their contract of service with you, MOM or the Small Claim Tribunal can help you seek redress. The former only applies for employees covered under the Employment Act. Examples of common contractual disputes include late salary payments, working past your contract's stated hours or any other work carried out beyond your job contract.

On the other hand, the Small Claim Tribunal aids those not covered by the Employment Act. Only claims not exceeding S$10,000 can be filed under the Small Claim Tribunal. A lodgment fee applies for every claim filed–S$50 for claims below S$5,000 and S$100 for claims below S$10,000. The claim has to be filed within a year upon the expiration date of the payment terms.

5. Pro-Family Leave Schemes

When it comes to family-related leave, regardless of whether you're a full-timer, part-timer or freelancer, the government offers the same benefits for all parents-to-be. In order to qualify for 16 weeks of paid maternity and one week of paid paternity leave, employees must work for at least three continuous months under the same employer. An additional week of government-paid paternity leave is also available for working fathers as long as their employers agree to it. Come January 2017, it will be mandatory for employers to provide two weeks of paid paternity leave for working fathers.

For freelancers, you will also need to prove a minimum of three continuous months of work and lost income as a result of your pregnancy.

The government offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and up to two weeks of paid paternity leave.

Additionally, in a recently proposed amendment by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), unwed mothers will also enjoy the same 16 weeks of government-paid maternity leave. Currently, only eight weeks of paid maternity leave are available for unwed mothers under the Employment Act. This benefit will apply to children born in early 2017.

Other pro-family leave under this scheme include shared parental leave, childcare leave, extended childcare leave and adoption leave.

Benefits of Part-Time and Contract Jobs

While benefits of a part-time or contract position vary for each person, a reoccurring reason was job flexibility.

Linda Huang, 30, a contract Translation Writer noted that while she does not have benefits such as annual leave or subsidised healthcare, she values the flexibility of her job. "I was actually looking for a full-time job but eventually liked the way my current work arrangement turned out. I have more time for my family, and can bring my mom and parents-in-law to medical appointments without worrying about constantly taking leave."

According to Joanne Tan, 23, a Marketing student from Singapore Institute of Management (SIM), the part-time nature of her retail job allows her to earn extra pocket money without compromising her studies. "I get to choose the number of days that I want to work with no minimum commitment. It works well for me because I can cater sufficient time for my studies and school projects."

Joanne Tan enjoys the flexibility of her part-time Retail Assistant job which allows her time for studies.

Challenges for Part-Time, Contract and Freelance Workers

Despite the current labour laws, it is difficult to enforce all employers to follow the National Wage Council guidelines on pay rises for part-time and contract employees. Since Singapore does not have a minimum wage system, it is not illegal to flout the guidelines in this sense. A potential problem is that these workers may receive a much lower salary on the basis that they are not full-time employees. One way for part-time, contract or freelance workers to avoid this is to do research on the average market pay for the job. With this knowledge, you will have a huge advantage when negotiating your pay with employers.

The Trade Union Act also does not allow trade unions to represent freelance workers. One of the downside is that industry standards may not be consistent, which affects employers' confidences to hire such workers. Addressing this, an NTUC spokesperson said: "What people in the same industry can do is to form associations or groups that advocate best practices. It brings the community closer together and can also act as a collective for their voices to be heard."

If you are thinking of diving into any job that is not of a full-time basis, here is what Alvin Ho has to say: "If time and commitments permit, I would definitely recommend people to try out part-time, contract or freelance jobs. Bear in mind that an alternative source of income definitely helps during the lull periods!"

Alvin Ho encourages others to try out part-time, contract or freelance jobs if their time and commitments permit.

Part-time work is great for getting your foot in the door of a new industry. It also affords you more time to pursue other projects and time with your family and loved ones.

Keeping the aforementioned laws in mind that benefit you as as part-time, contract or freelance worker, take that leap of faith and get a job in an industry that you're interested in!


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