Ask a lawyer: Can interns sue for wage payment?

by HRD08 Sep 2016
For the past few years, Corporate America has been hit with a spate of class action lawsuits brought forth by unpaid interns. 

Companies like Merril Lynch and Viacom, MTV’s parent company, were in the spotlight most recently when the former was forced to pay over one million dollars to the plaintiffs while the latter decided to settle out of court. 

With interns overseas suing for wages, can the same thing happen to the Singapore workforce? Are interns covered by any laws pertaining to the proper payment of wages?

Generally speaking, there are no clear cut laws on whether or not companies are obligated to pay interns as Singapore presently does not have legislation on minimum wage, said Shaun Lee, supervising associate at JWS Asia Law Corporation

Thus, the decision to offer wages to an intern is still left to the discretion of the company.

“[However], an intern employed by a Singapore company would be covered by the Employment Act and is therefore entitled to certain statutory benefits including hours of work, overtime pay, and statutory rest days,” he explained to HRD.

He also added that if the intern is employed for a period of 14 consecutive days, the employer must issue a Key Employment Term in writing detailing the intern’s working arrangements, salary period, and basic salary.

Operative word being ‘must’ because if an employer is found to be in breach of those terms, “the intern would be entitled to make a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower or to sue for a breach of [the] employment contract,” he said.
 

COMMENTS

  • by 8/9/2016 3:23:00 PM

    Looks like the law in M'sia is much more favourable than Spore in this aspect.
    Intern in M'sia is not categorized as an employee where they are not entering into any employment contract.
    They are merely a practical trainee with few months attachment with an organization as part of their university requirement before graduating. While quite a number of Companies do provides some allowances, some don't give any (no obligation)
    Hence, wages in this case does not arise, therefore suing each other does not arise.
    Though we give this intern some form of confirmation acceptance for a place to be trained, we titled it as "Industrial Practical Attachment Agreement".

  • by Renesh 13/9/2016 10:10:38 PM

    Hi All, just to be clear the article suggests that "..an intern employed by a Singapore company would be covered by the Employment Act and is therefore entitled to certain statutory benefits" - this is not clearly as yet the position in Singapore and this question as to interns falling under the Employment Act was put to the Acting Minister for Manpower in Parliament back in 20 January 2014. I set out an excerpt for your reference:

    "The Employment Act covers employees who are engaged under a contract of service. An employer is obliged to accord statutory benefits prescribed under the Act to an intern if he is performing work and has work arrangements similar to that of a regular employee in the organisation. There are internship programmes where the primary objective is to fulfil academic course requirements, and the intention is not to form an employer-employee relationship. Such forms of internships typically do not constitute contracts of service."

    We have to be clear that an intern regardless of whether the period of internship is for 14 days or more (or less) in most cases is fulfilling professional training requirements prior to being eligible for employment per se and is likely not performing duties under a contract of service. Naturally any treatment in terms of hours etc would require a degree of reasonableness however to extend statutory protection (which is meant to cover certain employer/employee relationships) and to suggest that is the case here may perhaps be stretching it. The article is accurate in suggesting that there is no minimum prescribed wage for interns undergoing such internships.

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