Toe the line
The recent announcement by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo that the government will legislate a second week of funded paternity leave for all fathers of Singapore citizen children born from January 1, 2017, has been the latest in a series of compliance-related issues facing HR departments in Singapore.
Weeks earlier in March, the Ministry of Manpower also revealed that from April 1 this year, all organisations have had to issue itemised pay slips and Key Employment Terms (KETs) to all staff covered under the Employment Act.
Coupled with other significant compliant-related issues such as Employment Passes and the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), it is no coincidence that meeting these strict compliance requirements is at the forefront of HR departments’ minds.
Placing paternity leave in the spotlight
Lynn Pua, Head of HR, Southeast Asia, Jardine OneSolution, says as part of her organisation’s continuous efforts in ensuring that it stays true to work-life balance, it has offered the additional paternity leave allowances since the announcement.
“HR communicated to all staff about this enhanced benefit, as our top management are advocates in fostering an environment where parenthood is celebrated and that it needs the collective effort of all,” she says.
Pua says her company acknowledges that its business unit heads may be concerned about the extra leave affecting manpower needs and, to a certain extent, productivity levels.
“Thus, we require our father-to-be employees to give at least three months’ advanced notice to their superiors and HR for work arrangements and staffing schedules,” she explains.
“We are mindful and underline to the eligible staff that the added paternity leave needs to serve the purpose of allowing fathers to be more involved in bringing up their children.”
While this is based on the trust and integrity of male employees, Pua says the company will take firm action against those who misuse the advantages.
Serene Wai, HR and Administration Manager at Hawksford Singapore, says her firm also implemented the two-week paternity leave even before it has been made into law.
“The team heads and relevant employees will ensure that work is handed over properly before going on leave. This is particularly important since we are in the client service industry,” she states.
“In this society where it is very common for both parents to be working, we felt that fathers should get the two-week leave so as to spend time with the newborn and to share the load of parental care,” says Wai.
Jaya Dass, Country Director, Randstad Singapore, explains the increased paternity leave will likely not have any substantial impact on either larger organisations or Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
She says companies are increasingly aware that the costs of replacing staff outweigh the costs of retention initiatives, and are already looking at improving retention rates.
“This is even more common for companies operating in industries with skill gaps,” she says.
“Paternity leave is also likely not going to be taken in larger blocks, but instead spread out over the year, offering parents flexibility around child-care responsibilities.”
“Businesses and their staff can try to reach a mutual agreement to minimise long-term absences, which in turn, can help reduce the impact on critical business operations.”
Deep mastery of foreign employment
The Fair Consideration Framework is another major aspect of HR compliance in Singapore.
It details fair recruitment requirements for firms in Singapore, including advertising on the national Jobs Bank and inspection of organisations with suspect hiring procedures.
One recent change in terms of the Jobs Bank advertising is that for Employment Pass applications filed from October last year, the accompanying advertisements must include published wage ranges.
Those who do not comply, and proceed to make an application to recruit a foreign professional, will have those applications turned down by the Ministry of Manpower.
Wai says Hawksford Singapore ensures that job advertisements are placed on the official Jobs Bank website and that it makes strong efforts to interview local candidates.
“A web tool is used to determine if the foreign candidate qualifies for a work pass before we offer the job,” she explains.
Nevertheless, Wai says it is hard for her company to ensure that whatever the candidate has declared is true and factual, especially with regards to qualifications.
Hence, she reveals that her organisation encourages internal promotions and transfers.
“We also have referral programmes in place to encourage employees to refer someone they know to work for our organisation,” she says.
“We have always given fair consideration to locals and more than 80% of our workforce is Singaporean or a permanent resident. We have followed the required procedures when hiring foreigners and will give opportunities to locals by advertising on the Jobs Bank.”
Likewise, Pua says her organisation’s hiring managers are mindful of the clear expectations for them to consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities.
“While we expect to take a longer time to fill up positions, especially in our sector where local talent is lacking, we do not compromise by disproportionately hiring foreign professionals. This is particularly important as the ratio of local and foreign employees is one of the key considerations in our manpower reports to ensure we comply with the rulings,” she states.
Dass stresses that an Employment Pass application is not just about the paperwork. Rather, it’s about ensuring that an organisation has looked for local talent for the role and is able to justify hiring outside of the local workforce.
“The corresponding submissions must reflect this justification,” she says.
“Secondly, understanding tax implications as well as work rights, from the salaries and notice periods to what aspect of the labour law applies to each hire is important. The application forms are simply reflective of this information.”
She says it all boils down to companies being familiar with Ministry of Manpower guidelines and regulations.
For example, if companies depend on foreign talent for their expertise, they need to have a member of their HR division properly qualified on legislation and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) policies in this area.
“Ensuring compliance is a key aspect of the HR function and cannot be viewed as just any other administrative task. Not appointing a HR function to this process will only backfire on an organisation if they approach the employment and application without sufficient understanding of work visas,” says Dass.
Pua explains Jardine OneSolution ensures that the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act is understood by both its HR department and individual hiring managers.
“Necessary education is given should any party be unsure of the guidelines or if there is anyone trying to beat the system,” she says. “HR observes all regulations and overrules any non-compliant acts. Our internal audit ensures compliance towards employment acts and it is the company’s philosophy that all stakeholders understand the laws and regulations.”
Nevertheless, Pua says one of the issues her firm is observing is the potential validity of job advertisements in the Jobs Bank being open to Singaporeans. She says the advertisements can appear less attractive to locals.
“Another possible issue could be the trick enacted into meeting the eligible criteria, such as incorporating a variable component into monthly fixed wages to qualify for the minimum salary,” she explains.
According to Wai, smaller SMEs may find it difficult to be compliant in terms of the key recent changes to the Employment Act, (such as the issuance of itemised payslips and keeping employee records) since they may have tighter controls on budget and manpower.
“Singaporeans may need to lower their expectations and contribute more in order to stay competitive in the diversified labour market,” she adds.
From Pua’s perspective, while the Fair Consideration Framework was implemented to force organisations to seek out Singaporeans first, it is questionable if the requirement is sufficient and effective enough to nudge employers to take the step to hire more Singaporeans.
She says this is because, there is no obligation for employers to share their placement data; hence, the postings in the Jobs Bank may not be genuine.
On the other hand, with the Singapore workforce largely made up of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETS) of varying backgrounds, Dass says this means the country is made up of a workforce that is diverse, with differing hiring packages available.
Job advertisement blunders
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has listed words and phrases on its website for companies to avoid when it comes to posting job advertisements.
These include aspects such as nationality, language and gender, among others.