Ask a lawyer: Can interns sue for wage payment?

Following some significant class action payouts overseas, HRD looks at whether interns in Singapore can sue their employers for unpaid wages

Ask a lawyer: Can interns sue for wage payment?
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.

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