Employment Rights of Interns and Trainees in Singapore

Last updated on April 5, 2022

employee in office with colleagues

Interns and trainees may only be employed for a short time period to broaden their exposure to the industry or be trained to take on a long-term role. With this in mind, do they have employment rights?

As an employer, it is important to know the answer to this question so that you may adequately fulfil your employment obligations in Singapore.

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Employment Rights of Interns in Singapore

Under the Employment Act, an employee is defined as a “person who has entered into or works under a contract of service (i.e. an employment contract) with an employer”.  This contract could be written, verbal, express or implied.

Hence, as long as you employ an intern under a contract of service, the intern will be considered an employee and be covered under the Employment Act. This article will assume that this is the scenario for interns.

However, the Ministry of Manpower has clarified that students undergoing internships as part of their school requirements are not covered under the Employment Act. As a result, the employment rights of interns stated in this article do not apply to them.

Are interns required to be paid?

There is no minimum allowance requirement stipulated for interns under the Employment Act. Therefore, internship programmes can be unpaid. However, you are encouraged to provide monthly stipends to defray the food and travelling expenses incurred by your interns during the employment period.

In addition, if you are applying for government grants to offset the costs of hiring an intern, be aware that minimum allowance requirements may apply.

For instance, employers keen on receiving up to 70% government support for internship allowances under the Global Ready Talent Programme (Internships) must offer interns a minimum monthly allowance (before funding) of $800 to ITE and polytechnic students and $1,000 to university students.

How often must interns be paid?

Employers may determine how often to pay their interns their allowances. However, you need to make payment at least once per month.

The allowance must be made before the expiry of the 7th day after the last day of the allowance period. For overtime payment, it must be paid within 14 days after the last day of the allowance period during which the overtime work was performed.

You must also pay allowance on a pro-rated basis if the intern has not completed a whole month of service because:

  • He commenced employment after the first day of the month;
  • Your intern’s contract was terminated before the end of the month;
  • Your intern took unpaid leave for one day or more; or
  • Your intern took leave to perform his national service obligations.

Pro-rated allowance is calculated based on the following formula:

(Monthly gross rate of pay x Number of days the employee actually worked in that month)/(Number of days which the employee is required to work in that month)

For instance, if your intern’s monthly pay is $800 and they are required to work 20 days a month but your intern works for only 10 days, the pro-rated allowance you would owe to your intern would be $400. For any day on which the intern worked for 5 hours or fewer, it shall be regarded as a half-day for this calculation.

If the intern terminates his contract with prior notice to the employer, the total allowance due to him must be paid to him on the day on which the contract is terminated. If the intern had not given prior notice to the employer, the employer may make the salary payment before the expiry of the 7th day after the day on which he terminates his contract.

The required notice period is usually stated in the terms of the employment contract. If there is no such provision, the notice period for termination should be given as follows:

Employment Period Notice Period
Shorter than 26 weeks 1 day’s notice
26 weeks or more but shorter than 2 years 1 week’s notice

Are interns entitled to CPF contributions?

Interns are generally entitled to CPF contributions. This is unless they fall within exceptions such as:

  • Students who are enrolled in an institution or programme subsidised by the Ministry of Education and employed for training approved by their educational institution. For example:
    • Polytechnic, ITE and university students undertaking approved internships (whether during the school term or school holiday period)
    • Overseas university students required to take up internships of up to 6 months in Singapore

Are interns entitled to take leave?

Pro-rated annual leave

As employees, your interns may be entitled to paid annual leave on a pro-rated basis, if they have worked for at least 3 months. Since internships are short-term and may not extend to 12 months, the annual leave of interns is calculated in proportion to the number of completed months of service in that year.

In this calculation, any fraction of a day that is less than one-half of a day is disregarded while any fraction of a day which is more than one-half will be regarded as one day.

For instance, unless the employment contract provides for a more generous annual leave entitlement, an employee who serves an employer for 1 year will be entitled to 7 days of annual leave. On this basis, an intern on a 6-month contract with you will be entitled to (6/12) x 7 = 4 days of paid annual leave (rounded up from 3.5 days).

If the intern absents himself without the employer’s permission or without reasonable excuse for more than 20% of the working days, he forfeits his entitlement to annual leave.

Sick leave

Your interns are also entitled to sick leave as certified by a medical practitioner as follows:

Employment Period Amount of sick leave if no hospitalisation is necessary Amount of sick leave if hospitalisation is necessary
At least 3 months but shorter than 4 months 5 days Either 15 days or 5 days plus the number of days the intern is hospitalised for, whichever is fewer
At least 4 months but shorter than 5 months 8 days Either 30 days or 8 days plus the number of days the intern is hospitalised for, whichever is fewer
At least 5 months but shorter than 6 months 11 days Either 45 days or 11 days plus the number of days the intern is hospitalised for, whichever is fewer
6 months or more 14 days Either 60 days or 14 days plus the number of days the intern is hospitalised for, whichever is fewer

Receiving of Key Employment Terms (KET)

You are obligated to issue KETs in writing to your intern who will be employed for 14 days or more under an employment contract on or after 1 April 2016. The KETs can be handwritten or in soft or hard copy, and must be issued within 14 days after the start of employment.

The KETs must include the following items unless they are not applicable:

  • Full name of employer and employee;
  • Employee’s job title, main duties and responsibilities;
  • Start date of employment;
  • Duration of employment;
  • Working arrangements, including the daily working hours, number of working hours per week and rest days;
  • Salary period and basic salary (specifying basic rate of pay if required);
  • Fixed allowances and deductions;
  • Overtime payment period and rate of pay;
  • Other salary-related components, including bonuses and incentives;
  • Type of leave, such as annual leave, outpatient sick leave, hospitalisation leave;
  • Other medical benefits, such as insurance and dental benefits;
  • Probation period (if applicable) and notice period; and
  • Place of work (optional but encouraged to include this if this is different from the employer’s address).

Common key employment terms such as leave policy or medical benefits can be provided in an employee handbook or the company intranet. Setting all of these out clearly will be useful in preventing employment disputes from arising.

What other employment rights do interns in Singapore have?

For interns that earn a monthly basic allowance of $2,600 and below, the Employment Act also provides for required rest days, hours of work and other conditions of service.

Rest days

Interns are allowed at least one rest day every week. This could be Sunday or any other day determined from time to time by the employer. If the rest day is determined by the employer, the employer has to prepare a roster before the start of every month so that the intern is informed of the appointed rest days for that month.

For interns engaged in shift work, the employer may consider any continuous period of 30 hours as a rest day, provided that this continuous period of 30 hours commences at any time before 6 pm on a Sunday.

Interns cannot be made to work on a rest day unless he is engaged in work that has to be carried on continuously by a succession of shifts. If they do work on their rest days, they must be paid accordingly.

This table explains how much an intern has to be paid if the employer requests work from the intern on a rest day:

Period of work on rest day Intern’s payment
Up to half the intern’s normal hours of work per day Basic rate of pay for 1 day’s work
More than half but up to the intern’s normal hours of work per day Basic rate of 2 days’ work
More than the intern’s normal hours of work per day Sum of the basic rate of 2 days’ work and the rate of not less than 1.5 times his hourly basic rate of pay for each hour or part thereof which exceed the intern’s normal hours of work per day

For instance, this would be the calculation if an intern is asked to work 11 hours on a rest day which is more than the intern’s normal 8 hours of work on a working day:

2(x) + 1.5(3x/8) where x is the salary for one day of work on a rest day.

This table explains how much an intern has to be paid if the intern requests work from the employer on a rest day:

Period of work on rest day Intern’s payment
More than half the intern’s normal hours of work per day Basic rate of pay for half a normal day’s work
More than half but up to the intern’s normal hours of work per day Basic rate of pay for 1 day’s work
More than the intern’s normal hours of work per day Sum of the basic rate of 1 day’s work and the rate of not less than 1.5 times his hourly basic rate of pay for each hour or part thereof which exceed the intern’s normal hours of work per day

For instance, this would be the calculation if an intern requested to work 11 hours on a rest day which is more than the intern’s normal 8 hours of work on a working day:

x + 1.5(3x/8) where x is the salary for one day of work on a rest day.

Hours of work and break entitlements 

Generally, an intern must not be required to work more than 6 consecutive hours without being able to take a break. They should also not be required to work more than 8 hours in one day or more than 44 hours in one week.

An intern may be required to exceed these limits only if there are exceptional situations such as where there is an accident (actual or threatened), urgent work to be done to machinery or a plant, or the nature of the work is essential for defence or security.

Further, where an intern is engaged in work which must be carried on continuously such as the security industry, the intern may be required to work for 8 consecutive hours inclusive of a meal break of at least 45 minutes.

While employers and employees have some flexibility on the number of working hours and days per week, no intern may be required to work more than 9 hours a day or 44 hours in one week or for more than 88 hours in any continuous period of 2 weeks.

Within these limits, employers and interns may agree on modifications to the number of working hours or days in a week in the employment contract.

Overtime hours 

If the employer requests that the intern works for a longer period of time otherwise than permitted above, the employer must pay the intern overtime pay at the rate of not less than 1.5 times his hourly basic rate of pay.

However, even then, an intern is not permitted to work more than 72 hours of overtime a month.

Consequences of breaching interns’ employment rights

If you fail to pay the required allowance or contravene any other of your intern’s employment rights above, you will be guilty of an offence under the Employment Act. Upon conviction, you will be liable for a fine of up to $5,000.

For a repeat offence, you can be liable for a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 12 months or to both.

Employment Rights of Trainees in Singapore

Whether trainees are entitled to employment rights depends on the type of contract they have signed.

If they have signed a contract of service that contains terms such as the KETs listed above, and which requires them to assist with actual work for the firm, then they are likely to have employment rights.

On the other hand, trainees may not be entitled to employment rights if their contract:

  • States that they are to be given training assignments (as opposed to actual work)
  • Does not include clauses that suggest that they are an employee (such as clauses relating to rights to terminate the contract)

Neither will they be entitled to CPF contributions.

For example, Workforce Singapore has clarified that trainees under the SGUnited Traineeships programme (which ended in March 2022) are not considered employees, and that hirers also need not make CPF contributions for them.

Nevertheless, hirers are encouraged to treat trainees not protected under the Employment Act fairly. This can be by offering allowances, annual leave and sick leave on a goodwill basis.

Hirers should also take note that:

  • Hirers may need to pay their trainees a minimum monthly training allowance amount to qualify for training allowance support. For example, under the now-defunct SGUnited Traineeships Programme, hirers were required to pay trainees a certain minimum monthly training allowance to qualify for 80% training allowance support. The allowance amount was to be determined by the trainee’s educational qualifications.
  • Hirers are still responsible for ensuring safe workplaces for trainees (and interns). Trainees (and interns) who suffer injury at the workplace may be able to claim work injury compensation.

Interns have employment rights under the Employment Act so long as they are hired under a contract of service. When entering into such a contract with your intern, you should set out all their employment rights clearly in writing.

During the term of the intern’s employment with your company, you should be cautious and seek to abide by all their employment rights. If not, you could be reported to the Ministry of Manpower and convicted of employment offences. Such negative publicity could also tarnish your company’s reputation.

On the other hand, trainees may have fewer rights if they are not considered employees under the Employment Act. However, hirers are encouraged to offer them allowances and non-monetary benefits on a goodwill basis.

A lawyer will be able to advise you on the employment rights of the interns and trainees that you will be hiring, and ensure that all the terms in your contracts with them are in accordance with their rights.

It is therefore highly encouraged for you to seek an employment lawyer to assist in the drafting of all contracts for hiring interns and trainees.

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