National Service (NS) Reservist in Singapore: What to Know

Last updated on January 19, 2022

military men holding rifle

For all able-bodied male citizens in Singapore, serving 2 years of mandatory national service in either the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Police Force, or the Singapore Civil Defence Force is not the end of their journey as a National Serviceman (or NSman). Subsequently, they would become Operationally Ready National Servicemen and partake in the Operationally Ready National Service (ORNS).

This article will explain:

What is Operationally Ready National Service and How Long Does It Last?

Commonly known and referred to as reservist, the ORNS is a training phase that National Servicemen (NSmen) must undergo. There are 10 ORNS work-years in total, during which NSmen must complete their call-up duties and carry out various activities and training.

To complete 1 ORNS year, you will need to complete the allocated ORNS activity within the work-year, which lasts from 1 April to 31 March of the following year. In every work-year, one may be called up for ORNS activities for up to 40 days. If you have been called up for more than 40 days in a work-year, you must seek an arrangement with your employer to engage in the extended service. Both you and your employer will then have to sign an undertaking to indicate acceptance of the arrangement.

An employer who wrongly dismisses you on the ground of your NS obligations will be fined up to $2,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 6 months on conviction. The court may also require your employer to pay a compensation amount that is equivalent to up to 3 months of your civilian income.

For call-ups that fall on a work-year and span across the next, the activities would be considered to be completed within the earlier work-year and do not count towards the next work-year’s 40-day limit of ORNS activities.

What Happens During Reservist?

Over the 10 ORNS work-years, you typically have to complete 7 High Key (HK) activities and 3 Low Key (LK) activities. HK activities last 7 days or more, and can comprise the following:

  • In-Camp Training (ICT);
  • Make-Up Training (MUT); and
  • Other courses.

On the other hand, LK activities last 6 days or fewer and can comprise the following:

  • ICT;
  • MUT;
  • Other courses;
  • Briefings;
  • Medical reviews; and
  • Mobilisation.

Who is Required to Undergo Reservist?

All NSmen have a duty to serve and undergo reservist. This is regardless of whether you are still a student, unemployed or employed. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this, which are made on a case-by-case basis through a deferment application to the Central Manpower Base (CMPB).

If your application is successful, you will be issued a deferment order. However, this does not mean that you do not have to attend reservist for good. (See the section on “Deferment of Reservist” below for more information.)

What If I’m Travelling Overseas?

If you will be travelling overseas for more than 6 months, you must apply for an exit permit with relevant supporting documents to prove your cause.

However, if you have scheduled call-ups that fall within your exit permit application period, you must first seek approval for deferment under “Manage Call-Ups & Manning” via the NS Portal. Only then can you apply for an exit permit. The maximum validity of an exit permit is 3 years, although it may cover the full duration of your academic course if you are studying overseas.

Once your exit permit is issued, and it is valid for 1 year or longer, you will also be automatically granted a  disruption of reservist. While you will not be called up for reservist when your exit permit is still valid, you will have to make up for the missed activities upon your return. Hence, you will likely complete your ORNS training cycle later than your cohort.

Deferment of Reservist

A deferment is a last-resort option for NSmen who have valid reasons that may reasonably prevent their participation in the ORNS activities. Common grounds for valid deferment are as follows:

  • Starting a new job or a newly established business, as the individual may need to focus on settling down in the job/helping to stabilise the business;
  • Needing to sit for an examination;
  • Marriage and honeymoon dates clash with ORNS activities;
  • Possible birth of a child during the period of ORNS activities; and
  • Serious illness or death of a next-of-kin.

You must apply for a deferment at least 10 weeks before your ICT commences. However, deferments are granted on a case-by-case basis and are not always guaranteed. If your application for deferment is approved, you will be exempted from the ORNS activities for that work-year. Despite this, you may still be called up for MUT within the same work-year.

Will I Suffer a Loss of Income During Reservist?

Fulfilling the duty to complete the ORNS activities would inevitably mean that those employed would have to be away from their employment for up to 40 days in a year, which may normally lead to a loss of income. Taking that into consideration, NSmen are eligible to receive National Service Pay (NS Pay), a payment made up of 2 components, namely the Service Pay and Make-Up Pay, to cover the loss of income.

  • The Service Pay: The Service Pay is a sum of money equivalent to your full-time NSman pay and vocational allowance. This sum is on a pro-rated basis dependent on your rank, vocation and the duration of the ORNS activity you have participated in. For example, if you are an Infantry Third Sergeant with a monthly Service Pay of $990, you would be paid a prorated sum of $383.23 of Service Pay for attending a 12-day ICT in the month of October (12/31 days x 990).
  • Make-Up Pay: The Make-Up Pay will be the sum of money you will receive in the event that the Service Pay is inadequate to fully cover the loss of your civilian income. The Make-Up Pay is equivalent to the difference between your loss of civilian income and Service Pay. For example, if your monthly civilian income is $2,000, your total loss of income for the 12-day ICT period will be $645.16 (10/31 days x 2,000). (This calculation assumes that 2 of the ICT days fall on 2 non-working days, such as the weekend, hence your civilian income is pro-rated over only 10 days instead of 12 days.) As your Service Pay of $383.23 is lower than your loss of income, you would therefore be eligible to receive Make-Up Pay of $645.16 – $383.23 = $261.93. Hence, even though you would be away from your job while on reservist, there would be no loss of income. However, no Make-Up Pay will be payable if your civilian income loss incurred is lower than your Service Pay.

How Will You Know If You’ve Been Called Up For Reservist?

You will be notified of their call-up via the following methods:

  • Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) notification channels;
  • Automated telephone response system;
  • SMS; and
  • E-mail.

The notification period for every call-up activity also differs. They are as follows:

Type of Call-Up Notification Period
HK ICT/Course 6 months in advance
LK ICT/Course 3 months in advance
HK MUT 2 months in advance
LK MUT 1 month in advance
A call-up that lasts 1 day or shorter 1 month in advance

After you receive the notification, you will need to provide an acknowledgement through the MINDEF notification channels or “Manage Call-Ups & Manning” on the NS Portal. If you do not submit such acknowledgement for the call-up within 10 days, the official notice, known as the SAF100, will be sent via registered mail to your registered address. It will notify you of, among other things, the date and location that you are required to report to for ORNS activities.

You will have to inform your employer and forward them a copy of the eSAF100, which is a softcopy version of the SAF100. Furthermore, to ensure smooth and punctual payment of all Make-Up Pay claims, you will have to submit a claim via the “Manage NSmen Payments” section on the NS Portal or through the submission of hardcopies of the Make-Up Pay claim form(s) to the NSmen Payments Centre (NPC) at least 2 weeks before the start of a call-up.

You are to also prepare and bring equipment such as boots, field pack, jockey cap and uniform beforehand and these can be bought from the SAF eMart on the NS Portal using eMart credits or cash.

What If One Fails to Attend Reservist?

If you fail to attend a call-up without a valid deferment, you will be called back for an investigation. If, during this investigation, you are found to have no valid reasons for missing reservist, you will likely be liable to disciplinary actions, such as being charged for being Absence Without Official Leave (AWOL).

Those called up for reservist would be subjected to military law. If you’re absent from military service when you are lawfully required to attend, you would be liable to an imprisonment term of up to 2 years or any less punishment authorised by the Singapore Armed Forces Act.

Further, as discussed above, a valid exit permit would legally allow you to remain outside of Singapore without having to serve reservist for the duration of your exit permit. However, the failure to return to Singapore after the expiry of the exit permit, resulting in the failure to attend reservist, is an offence. For this offence, one can be fined up to  $10,000, imprisoned for a term up to 3 years or to both.

It is the obligation of every operationally ready NSmen in Singapore to serve reservist and fulfil their duties. We hope that this article has helped you to better understand what you can expect will happen at times leading up to reservist, during reservist and after reservist.

If you have further enquiries on reservist, you can visit the CMPB website to find out more.

On the other hand, if you are dealing with an offence regarding your alleged absence from reservist, it may be appropriate to hire a lawyer to obtain advice on your options moving forward. Should you be convicted of an offence, a lawyer can also assist you in preparing a reasonable mitigation plea, and facilitate a fairer outcome for your matter.

Try our free Find a Lawyer service for obtaining quotations from multiple criminal lawyers here.