WorkRight initiative
Ministry of Manpower

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Singapore’s Employment Laws: Singapore’s Employment Act sets out the basic terms and conditions of employment, to ensure that employers and employees enjoy basic employment protection such as salary payment, payment rate for overtime work and other employment benefits such as annual and medical leave. Singapore also has the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a mandatory social security savings scheme funded by contributions from employers and employees. The CPF is a key component of Singapore's social security system, which helps meet citizens’ retirement, housing and healthcare needs. If employers fulfil their legal obligations under the Employment Act and CPF Act, their workers should have employment protection and retirement security. (Problem: Not All Low-Wage Workers Enjoy Basic Employment Protection) Singapore’s approach has been to focus on growing the economy, generating good jobs and keeping the unemployment rate low and the labour market vibrant. The thinking is that if these conditions are met, workers’ wages and employment terms will naturally be uplifted and that economic imperatives will motivate companies to become progressive and great workplaces. While this has generally been the case, there remains low-wage Singaporean workers who tend to be older, less educated and mainly employed by micro-enterprises in industries such as cleaning, security, retail, food & beverage and landscaping. Unfortunately, not all of them enjoy basic employment terms and conditions or have their salaries paid regularly and on time. In particular, the informal workers (such as casual or part time workers) do not receive employer’s contributions to their Central Provident Fund, thereby compromising their retirement security. In fact, these vulnerable workers are often not aware of their employment rights, or unable to voice out against poor employment conditions for fear of reprisal by employers. As they are lower-skilled, they also experience difficulties finding employment. The government has supplemented the income of low-wage workers through fiscal transfers (e.g. Goods and Services Tax (GST*) Vouchers , Workfare** ). However, given the inherent structural constraints and market rigidities, raising the employment and living standards of the low-wage workers in a sustainable way will require a different approach. *GST vouchers provides lower-income and retiree households with cash for immediate needs, such as grocery bills **Workfare encourages provides low-wage workers with cash payments and CPF contributions by providing payouts when workers continue to stay in employment.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
As part of uplifting the living and employment standards of low-wage workers, a whole-of-Singapore strategy, called the “WorkRight Initiative”, was launched by MOM and CPF Board in September 2012. The objectives are (i) to raise and sustain awareness of employment rights amongst the low-wage workers; and (ii) to better ensure retirement security for this group of workers, who tend to be economically vulnerable. To jump start the initiative, a WorkRight Programme Office comprising MOM and CPF Board officers took the lead in coordinating and elevating the level of public engagement and outreach efforts in the following ways: (a) MOM and CPF Board secure a strong government commitment (including from the Ministry of Finance) to prioritise and raise overall awareness of employment rights and obligations through above-the-line publicity campaigns. The WorkRight Initiative embarked on a mass media campaign to educate both employers and employees on their obligations and rights under the CPF Act and Employment Act through print (newspapers), radio, TV commercials and outdoor advertisements. The WorkRight Programme Office also worked with the media to publicise successful conviction cases and highlight the step-up in enforcement efforts to help drive the message of deterrence. (b) Concurrently, the WorkRight Programme Office coordinated internal resources within MOM and CPF Board to conduct industry engagement through road shows, talks and seminars in partnership with industry associations and tripartite partners. Particularly for the high risk industries (which tend to employ many low-wage workers), such a targeted outreach helped to address the prevalent type of non-compliance in each of those industries and taking into account the profile and employment terms peculiar to them. For example, when engaging the food & beverage industry, examples of common malpractices in the food & beverage industry which constitute excessive overtime hours and non/under payment for overtime work were highlighted for employers’ attention. (c) To better reach workers in the high risk industries, particularly the LWWs who are vulnerable to accepting poor employment terms, a coordinated MOM-CPF Board team tapped on existing touch points that reach out to LWWs. These include front-line officers working in Community Development Councils, Family Service Centres and Self Help Groups, as well as grassroots leaders. This enables a whole-of-Singapore approach in equipping various stakeholders in the public and people sectors with basic knowledge on CPF eligibility and key Employment Act provisions so that they are able to help educate and advise the workers whom they assist. (d) From enforcement experience, complaints have been effective in uncovering non-compliance of employment laws. Therefore, we put together a whistle-blowing strategy to complement the public engagement and outreach efforts, essentially to encourage low-wage workers or their family to come forward if they suspect that their (or family members’) employment terms are not in accordance with the law. To make it easier for workers to come forward, the WorkRight Programme Office started a dedicated hotline (1800-221-9922) and email address (workright@mom.gov.sg) in 2012 to facilitate the lodging of complaints on CPF and Employment Act non-compliance matters. Both the hotline number and email address were publicised in our engagement and outreach events. And all informants or workers who whistle-blow had been assured that the confidentiality of their identity is maintained. To strengthen the branding of coordinated public engagement and outreach efforts, so that the public can easily identify them, the WorkRight Programme Office created the tagline, “I know my rights. I do it right!”, which the media campaign and all engagement and outreach activities have been carrying.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The WorkRight Initiative is unique in a few regards: (a) Educating non-English educated, low-wage workers about employment rights through “getai” (boisterous live stage performance in Chinese dialects) in the heartlands. “WorkRight” jingles in Singlish (an English-based creole language spoken in Singapore) also helped the local community to enhance recall of the important employment terms and conditions. (b) Institutionalising a whistle-blowing framework that gives vulnerable workers a voice is a creative and credible enabler. It is now easy for low-wage workers with low education level to call a toll-free number and have their complaints registered with the authorities. These vulnerable workers need not be afraid of coming forward with a complaint about their employers not giving them employment rights. (c) Harnessing the strengths of public, private and people sectors to improve the employment and living standards of low-wage workers is a first whole-of-Singapore joint compliance effort. The public sector contributed the strategies and resources to jump start the initiative; the private sector (such as industry associations, employers federation) played a key role in educating employers how to be compliant with the employment laws; the people sector provided the touch points for the government to effectively reach out to the low-wage workers.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The WorkRight Initiative focused on strong collaboration of the Public, Private and People sectors, to achieve a virtuous circle of improving workers’ awareness and better employers’ self-regulation of employment laws. On effectively implementing the “WorkRight Initiative”, three key steps were taken: (a) Inform the workers’ and employers’ of their employment rights and obligations respectively, mainly through broad-based publicity and community engagement activities, from September 2012. These efforts are aimed at reaching out to vulnerable workers (primary audience) as well as family and friends (multipliers). With correct and easy to understand information, workers, or their family members and friends, would know about employment protection. Employers would also be more aware of their legal obligations, and have the knowledge to do the right things. (b) Involve stakeholders, industry partners, worker unions and grassroots (from November 2012). We did targeted engagement of relevant stakeholders in the high-risk sectors to address issues on non-compliance. Since 2012, WorkRight has built up an extensive network of stakeholders which include industry and business associations, unions, grassroots touch points as well as other government agencies. For instance, we conducted customised briefings on the employment laws with restaurant associations and merchant associations in the food and beverage sectors. Engagements with such business clusters help our messages to be disseminated to a wider spread of business owners who are then able to reform their employment practices to be in line with the laws. (c) Include low-wage workers, who are beneficiaries of the WorkRight initiatives, as advocates in our public outreach, since June 2013. These advocates join us in sharing about the WorkRight initiative at road shows and at “employment law clinics” where we provide free advice to workers on basic employment terms and conditions.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The WorkRight Initiative consciously invokes a whole-of-Singapore approach to help vulnerable workers. This involves close collaboration of several government agencies, worker unions, grassroots organisations, industry associations, employers federation, such as the following: a. Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. The WorkRight Programme Office, which is jointly staffed by the MOM and CPF Board, takes the lead in developing strategies and championing initiatives to achieve the desired outcomes. Between the two organisations, processes are streamlined and integrated to ensure no duplication of efforts. b. National Environment Agency (NEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs. The cleaning and security industries hire a high proportion of low-wage workers. Industry-specific Progressive Wage Models for these two industries were recently launched as part of strengthening the objectives of the WorkRight Initiative, particularly with respect to uplifting the employment standards of workers. c. National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and grassroots organisations. Through job fairs and social events, the NTUC “U Care Centre” (for the low-wage workers) and grassroots organisations inform all workers (i.e., not restricted to unionised workers) in the heartlands about their employment rights and statutory benefits. The Union of Security Employees also co-launched a Security Officer Handbook (on employment rights) with WorkRight Programme Office. d. Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). The SNEF website puts up hyperlinks to WorkRight webpage, which contains information resources on employment laws for its 3,000-strong members to access/download. Its industry group meetings are also appropriate platforms for MOM and CPF Board officers to explain common misconceptions of the Employment Act and CPF Act to employers and human resource practitioners.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The WorkRight initiative was funded by the Government to uplift low-wage workers to ensure that they are able to achieve the objectives (i) to raise and sustain awareness of employment rights amongst the low-wage workers; and (ii) to better ensure retirement security for this group of workers, who tend to be economically vulnerable The initiative was granted a total of US$20 million (inclusive of human resources, project planning and execution costs) over a period of 5 years to achieve the outcomes of helping Singaporeans and low-wage workers achieve financial security, income growth and enjoy good employment standards.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Strong collaboration of the Public, Private and People sectors, to achieve a virtuous circle of improving workers’ awareness and better employers’ self-regulation of employment laws: Through focusing on 3Ps (People, Public, Private) and getting the three groups to collaborate through tighter partnership, a virtuous cycle of improving awareness and better employer self-regulation was achieved. Through raising awareness, the public sector helps employers improve the employment conditions of workers. Workers who enjoy working in the job help employers with profit margins and business sustainability. This continues to support the ecosystem of harmonious employment in Singapore. Sustained publicity presence: The various publicity efforts through mass and social media are vital in creating public awareness of the employment rights messages under WorkRight. These include a mix of above-the-line publicity platforms like TV, newspaper, social and digital media. The team also actively taps on grassroots events held by union partners and other stakeholders in reaching out to lower wage workers. Brand marketing: The creation of a catchy TV advertisement slogan (“I know my rights”) and amusing TV advertisement characters who recite nuggets of information on the employment laws have led to wider public interest in the WorkRight initiative. Higher public interest translates to more whistle-blowing from the public, especially civic-conscious members of the public who come forward to report on people they know who are missing out on the statutory benefits. We have also produced WorkRight merchandise that are targeted at lower wage consumers. These include pocket calendars and towels with the WorkRight hotline number. Such merchandise create visibility for the campaign and also helps people to register the important bits of information like the hotline number.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
To ensure that our education and publicity is effective, regular surveys were conducted with the public to assess if the education campaign is meeting its objectives of raising public awareness especially among our target audiences. The survey results were closely monitored to make continual refinements to the education strategy. The number of calls to and emails sent to the WorkRight whistle-blowing hotline to enquire on employment entitlements or complaint against non-compliant employers were also closely monitored. By further evaluating the statistics, common misconceptions which employees and employers have on the employment laws and be discerned. Such misconceptions are addressed in subsequent rounds of publicity. WorkRight inspections has also made it a point to re-visit formerly inspected companies which were found to have less serious infringements, to monitor if these employers have corrected their employment practices. This ensures that companies which were given a chance to self-rectify really did so. Employers found not to have corrected their employment practices to comply with employment laws subjected to further investigative actions which may result in prosecution.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
(1) Difficulty in inducing business compliance Despite the educational efforts, a key challenge is in helping businesses accurately apply the knowledge on employment laws. In this way, WorkRight enforcement is crucial in nudging businesses to comply with the employment guidelines. The WorkRight team fitted an educative element in the inspections, where inspectors will brief the business owners on their weaker areas in their compliance to the employment laws and iterate the statutory requirements. This ensures that the messages from the public education are not forgotten or cast aside and business owners will correctly apply the knowledge in their employment practices. (2) Difficulty in reaching out to employers and employees who have difficulty understanding English Employers in the Small and Medium Enterprise as well as low-wage workers, may have some difficulty understanding the English language. They tend to be more comfortable with Mandarin or their dialects. As such, educational campaigns to reach out to this group of employers and employees may not be effective in conveying the messages if it were only pitched in the English language. To appeal to employers and employees, we have adapted our educational materials to multiple languages so that it is easily understood. For example, the WorkRight guidebooks detailing key employment provisions and an MTV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak3fVFhpmeg) featuring a popular dialect musical was produced elaborating on employment rights, are adapted to different languages to ensure that it is easily understood by everyone.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
WorkRight made a key difference to Singaporeans through (A) heightening public awareness of employment and (B) nudging employers to comply with employment laws. (A) Heightening public awareness (i) WorkRight TV Commercial reached out to over 2 million viewers WorkRight education efforts raise awareness of employees of their employment rights and awareness of employers on their legal obligations to their workers. A publicity campaign was launched in Oct 2012. As part of the publicity campaign, a TV Commercial was produced and screened in the major TV channels. The TV Commercial reached out to over 2 million viewers during its one month of screening in 2013 and 2014. The TV Commercial was also uploaded on YouTube. As of mid Oct 2014, it garnered over 15,000 hits. It can be access via the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZ8E8cUQEkg. Sustaining the outreach efforts, subsequent TV campaigns ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcaAeP8wXKc) were launched in 2014 with targeted messages highlighting the key employment terms which workers should be getting. To appeal to low-wage workers who were more endeared to dialect languages, a MTV (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak3fVFhpmeg) featuring a popular dialect musical was produced. Both videos have garnered over 34,000 views as of mid Oct 2014. (ii) Availing quadri-lingual WorkRight guidebooks online for downloads WorkRight guidebooks for employers and workers, detailing the key employment provisions were also made available online to allow easy assess to knowledge of employment rights. (B) Nudging employers to comply with employment laws (i) WorkRight helped over 35,000 Singaporeans affected by under-payment of salary, CPF and/or overtime (OT) payment issues, out of which over 19,000 were low-wage workers. WorkRight enforcement efforts seek to establish strong enforcement presence to deter employers from violating the laws. With WorkRight, inspections were stepped up by ten-fold, up from the 500 employment inspections which the Government used to conduct, to 5,000 inspections per year. The vastly increased inspections were achieved by outsourcing the detection work to a contractor who conducts employment inspections on employers. The increased numbers of inspections allows us to cover more employers, thereby establishing a stronger deterrent effect. Cases of employers found to be in serious violation of employment laws are escalated for further investigation by internal Government officers. Since WorkRight inspections started in Nov 2012, more than 35,000 local workers have benefitted from our enforcement efforts. These include workers affected by infringements such as under-payment of salary, CPF and OT payment issues. The payments due to these workers were rectified following our intervention. (ii) WorkRight halved the non-compliance rate from 33% to 13% Since the inception of WorkRight inspections, more than 8,000 inspections have been conducted to low-wage sectors to date. Comparing the non-compliance rate for the first 5,000 inspections with the subsequent inspections, the non-compliance rate has been reduced from 33% to 13%. This is due to greater awareness by both employers and workers to do it right as well as deterrent effect from WorkRight inspections.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
While WorkRight is a relatively new initiative, its sustainability is demonstrated in its results and impact despite only having a manpower-lean core team (of only 5 officers in WorkRight Programme Office). The success can be attributed to the close collaboration and partnerships the team has built with multiple stakeholders from other departments and agencies. For instance, the team has driven knowledge-sharing initiatives with the other participating agencies to ensure that officers are familiar with the respective employment laws under their purview. This improves the efficacy in any investigative action done on businesses that are suspected to have violations across the different employment laws. Through fostering close collaboration with partners (such as participating government agencies), WorkRight is able to sustain efforts to ramp up education and enforcement. The concept of driving both education and enforcement efforts under a single set-up can lend itself to other awareness campaigns. Its publicity strategy of cultivating the wider public (beyond its targeted audiences) as secondary advocates of employment laws can be emulated in other campaigns. Given the resource constraints most agencies face in publicity spending, it is necessary to cultivate a pipeline of civic-minded members of the public who can be whistle-blowers for the campaign. This would reduce the need for enforcement action, as the social acceptance of business non-compliance would be reduced, and employers would be more wary against deliberating violating the employment laws. WorkRight also practices financial sustainability in its method of outreach. While reaching out to more disadvantaged working individuals is among our priorities, we tap frequently on existing event platforms by the unions and grassroots organisations by participating in their events (for instance the carnivals organised by unions). This is instead of spearheading our own events all the time which can be resource-intensive and duplicative of the efforts by other organisations.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The WorkRight team learnt that to successfully educate the business community, we need to invest resources in guiding businesses to ‘self-help’, i.e. to develop their own competency in applying the employment law requirements accurately. This is in addition to education via our regular modes of publicity. A “self-help” mentality helps businesses to proactively seek to re-invent itself to be more productive while at the same time comply with employment laws. To foster this mentality, the WorkRight Programme Office will be introducing a “Do It Right” toolkit which provides a simple step-by-step guide to help employers formulate an action plan towards compliance. Specific employment templates (such as standard leave forms, payslips etc) are also included in the toolkit to help employers work towards complying with employment laws. In addition, we learnt that it is important to foster close collaboration between different agencies to ensure that different perspectives and inputs can be taken into account when jointly formulating strategies, planning for implementation, actual implementation and review of outcomes. To foster close collaboration between agencies involved in WorkRight, a WorkRight Steering Committee consisting of top management from the participating agencies was formed to provide strategic directions ad oversee planning. Staff involved were all pulled together to support this effort. Workgroups under the Steering Committee were also set up to streamline the operations to more effectively enforce and engage our target groups. Processes were also streamlined to ensure that participating agencies were able to jointly collaborate and roll out initiatives.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of Manpower
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Toh Joo Seng
Title:   Senior Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   66924772
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   toh_joo_seng@mom.gov.sg  
Address:   1500 Bendemeer Road
Postal Code:   Singapore 339946
City:   Singapore
State/Province:   Singapore
Country:  

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