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Why Singapore’s Largest Employer (The Public Service) Does Not Encourage Moonlighting?

You can (not really) work a second job as a civil or public servant.


One issue raised during the first parliamentary debate of Singapore’s 14th Parliament was the benefit of allowing employees to take on a second job as it could enable them to learn new skills and increase job security. In view of the COVID-19 recession, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has released guidelines regarding second job arrangements to help affected workers. Employees are legally allowed to work if there are no restrictions in their existing employment contracts or conflicts of interest with their current employment.

At over 145,000 employees, the Public Service (comprising Civil Service and Statutory Boards) is one of Singapore’s largest employers. Yet, the Public Service does not encourage moonlighting and we explore the reasons in this article.

Read Also: How Are Labour Productivity Statistics Measured – And What Can Companies And Individuals Do To Improve It

The Public Service’s Current Stance On Taking On A Second Job

The Public Service is made up of both the Ministries and the Statutory Boards while only officers in the Ministries form the Civil Service. In general, if you are employed full-time in either public or civil service, you are expected to only work for the Service and any outside employment is subject to the approval of the highest approving authority in your agency, i.e. the Permanent Secretary (PS) for ministries and Chief Executive (CE) for statutory boards.

In short, public servants are discouraged from taking on a second job or moonlighting. In fact, harsh penalties have been meted out in the past for those who flout this.

In 2017, Singapore Armed Forces fined a staff sergeant for giving GrabHitch rides without seeking prior approval. The Public Service Division (PSD) also made a statement that civil servants need to declare additional trade or work that draws income to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

The Reasons For Discouraging Moonlighting

As highlighted by PSD, the one key reason for discouraging moonlighting is the conflict of interest. Employers safeguard their interests by retaining their employees’ exclusivity to the company. This is because as an employee, you have sight to the company’s internal operations which may be of value to a competitor. This information is potentially so valuable that companies would typically include confidentiality and non-competition clauses into their employment contracts and require contractors to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) before sharing project details.

This is even more critical for the public service as public officers may have access to confidential information or even prior knowledge of market-moving news. Similar to the reason why public officers are not allowed into casinos without declaration, discouraging public officers from having a secondary employer minimises the possibility of split loyalties.

Read Also: Can You Really Enforce The Non-Compete Clause in Singapore?

The other more prosaic consideration for employers would be how to divide or prorate the employer’s responsibilities and employment benefits to the employee. MOM has provided guidelines for second job work arrangement: in essence, the employer is responsible for the employees only during the scheduled work hours. If you are injured during your second job, your first employer is not responsible nor liable for your injury.

Additionally, under the Employment Act, employment of fewer than 35 hours of work a week is considered part-time. With a second job, employees may be working less than 35 hours and employers may choose to prorate the employment benefits and salary. This could end up in a situation where you work two jobs, but your net benefits are the same or less than just working one job.

Read Also: How Well Do You Know Your Employment Rights? Here Are 3 Key Rights You Should At Least Know About Today

Potential Exceptions to Public Service’s Stance On Moonlighting

Teachers are an interesting possible exception to the Public Service’s stance on moonlighting as MOE teachers are known to provide private tuition. However, MOE does provide guidelines on paid tuition: teachers must seek their principal’s approval and they are not allowed to exceed six hours a week. Additionally, there are other guidelines to avoid conflict of interest such as not using materials provided to them in the course of their work and not taking on students from the same school.

While Members of Parliament (MPs) and Nominated MPs (NMPs) are regarded as part of the government, they are not part of the Public Service. Thus, MPs and NMPs may continue to hold on to full-time jobs without being seen as moonlighting from the Public Service.

Conflict Of Interest May Have Greater Consequences For Public Service

In general, conflict of interest remains the key consideration in why employers frown upon second jobs and the Public Service is not exempt from this. In fact, the Public Service has even more reason to be more stringent with second job arrangements as the conflict of interest may have greater national consequences.

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