August 10, 2017

Co-Head of Employment Practice Vernon Voon shares with The Straits Times the possibility of the Government imposing a custodial sentence or unlimited fines in relation to the recent spate of worksite accidents

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Co-Head of Employment Practice Vernon Voon shares with The Straits Times regarding the possibility of the Government imposing a custodial sentence or unlimited fines in relation to the recent spate of worksite accidents. The article was first published in The Straits Times on 10 August 2017.  Workplace safety: The next frontier Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd Date: 10 August 2017 Author: Toh Yong Chuan The record on work safety is mixed. After rapid progress from 2004 to 2014, the numbers slipped in 2015 and 2016, although they improved in the first half of this year. What's needed for Singapore to scale the next level of the workersafety bar? The year 2004 was a pivotal one for workers' safety in Singapore. That was the year the Nicoll Highway collapsed on April 20, killing four workers and injuring three others. Just nine days later, the collapse of a steel structure at the Fusionopolis worksite on April 29 killed two workers and injured 29 others. A month later, a fire on board the ship Almudaina on May 29 at the Keppel Shipyard killed seven workers and injured three. These three accidents triggered a round of soul-searching. It also led to sweeping changes in workplace safety. Workplace safety numbers improved dramatically after that, from 2004 to 2014. But they started dipping in 2015 and last year, although the first six months of this year have seen lower rates of accidents and deaths than last year. One recent accident has put the spotlight on worker safety issues again, raising the question of whether it is time to push for even higher workplace safety standards. On July 14, a section of a Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) viaduct under construction in Upper Changi Road East collapsed. One worker was killed and 10 others injured. What more can be done to make workplaces safer in Singapore? A GOOD DECADE A look back to measures taken after the 2004 accidents is instructive. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reviewed the workplace safety framework. Its staff visited Britain, Germany, Sweden and France to study their laws and practices. It announced a new occupational safety and health blueprint in Parliament on March 10, 2005, to cut workplace deaths by one-third in five years and by half in a decade, or 2015. On Oct 17, 2005, the ministry proposed new legislation in Parliament - the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Act - to replace the Factories Act to regulate occupational safety and health. When the proposed law was debated in January 2006, then Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said the three high-profile accidents had "added new impetus and urgency" to MOM reforming the Factories Act - which it had started studying how to do so five years earlier. The new legislation was passed and enacted that year. In November 2005, the MOM also set up a Workplace Safety and Health Advisory Committee to help industry efforts to raise occupational safety and health standards. The committee became the WSH Council in 2008 and it continues to champion workplace safety and health today. These multiple efforts bore fruit. By 2010, workplace fatalities fell to 2.2 per 100,000 workers, achieving the target to reduce such deaths by half - five years ahead of schedule. A new target to further reduce the deaths to 1.8 per 100,000 workers was set on 2009, and achieved on 2014. Workplace fatality rates have fallen from 4.9 per 100,000 workers in 2004 to a record low of 1.8 in 2014. However, the improvements were not sustained and workplace fatalities crept up in 2015 and last year. In both years, the fatalities crept up to 1.9 per 100,000 workers. The number of workplace injuries also fell gradually from 460 per 100,000 workers in 2007 to 364 in 2015, before creeping up to 382 last year. Singapore's record is mixed compared with other countries'. It fares better than the United States, which had 3.38 deaths per 100,000 workers in 2015. But it lags way behind Britain, which had 0.43 deaths per 100,000 workers from April 2016 to March this year. If Singapore were a member of the European Union, it will roughly be at the lower middle half of the 28 member states in terms of workplace fatalities, coming in behind countries like Britain, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, which had fewer than one death per 100,000 workers. Official statistics released last week showed that 19 workers died on the job between January and June this year, down sharply from 42 in the same period last year. Similarly, the number of injured workers declined from 6,245 to 6,151 in the same period. COMMON CAUSES OF WORKPLACE FATALITIES AND INJURIES If Singapore is to keep up the trend of reducing workplace accidents and deaths, it needs to have a clearer picture of the top causes of such injuries and deaths. In Singapore, the top causes were slips, trips and falls, and being struck by moving vehicles. Most fatalities were from the construction sector. A study of overseas trends found similar patterns. Last month, the Health and Safety Executive, the British government body responsible for workplace safety and health, released data which showed that the construction sector was the most deadly in the United Kingdom, from April last year to March this year. The two top causes of death for workers were falls from height and being struck by moving vehicles. The US also has a similar pattern. In 2015, the construction sector had the most number of fatal work injuries, and the two top causes of deaths were transportation incidents, and falls, slips and trips. What is also telling is that no country has been able to cut workplace fatalities to zero on a sustained basis. LOOKING AHEAD To bring worker safety to the next level, Singapore needs to go beyond reducing work falls and accidents. We need to review the regulatory environment too. In the case of the recent PIE viaduct accident, the main contractor for the work was Or Kim Peow Contractors (OKP). It was awarded the contract in November 2015 despite another fatal accident having taken place just two months earlier, at the company's worksite at another flyover. Senior Minister of State for Transport Lam Pin Min said in Parliament last week that the contractor was given "a low safety performance score" when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) evaluated the bids, but its "lowest tender price and good track record in completing many similar infrastructure projects over the past 10 years" outweighed its low safety score. In other words, low price won over safety concerns. The LTA should rethink the balance between price and safety. If it tilts the balance further in favour of contractors without safety lapses, it gives contractors a financial incentive to keep their workers safe. This is not the only area that the authorities ought to review. Another area is the WSH Act itself. UPDATING THE LAW The last major update of the WSH Act was in 2011 when main contractors were made responsible for worksite safety and MOM officers were given more powers to investigate worksite hazards. The MOM started reviewing the law earlier this year. It is looking at enhancing deterrence against worksite accidents, improving the industry's learning from such accidents through the release of accident reports, and raising the maximum administrative fine for offences that result in serious injuries or deaths from $20,000 to $50,000. Labour MP Melvin Yong said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) supports tougher punishment. "It acts as a deterrence and sends a strong message that any WSH breaches are not to be taken lightly," said the NTUC director for workplace safety and health. The Government can consider imposing a custodial sentence or unlimited fines as deterrence, said Mr Vernon Voon, employment and labour relations partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. He pointed out that in the UK, "corporate manslaughter" is an offence that can lead to jail time for the company's executives if they are found to be criminally responsible for the deaths, and the courts can impose unlimited fines at 5 to 10 per cent of a company's turnover. "In cases where an industrial death occurs from the gross negligence of the company's officers, the Government could perhaps look into legislating a minimum custodial sentence on the company," he said. Besides updating the law, another approach is to rope in more parties to lower workplace injuries. So far, the WSH Council has focused primarily on the three-way partnership of the Government, unions and employers. Insurers are another player that can help in reducing workplace injuries and fatalities. Insurers monitor workplace accidents and, in particular, companies with poor track records to understand what is going wrong, said Mr Karl Hamann, chief executive of QBE Insurance Singapore. "We also have a role in holding companies to account, making it clear that having insurance should not make safety an afterthought," he added. If the authorities can learn from insurers how they gather information and assess workplace risks, then it can have a more complete picture of risk assessments and, logically, improve risk prevention. Thirteen years ago, the horrifying Nicoll Highway collapse and series of high-profile industrial accidents triggered sweeping action that made the workplace safer for workers. The PIE viaduct collapse last month is an early warning bell. We should not wait until more deaths pile up before we are spurred to do more to prevent more workers from getting injured or dying on the job.
August 2, 2017

Head of Regulatory Practice Nizam Ismail shares with The Straits Times his take on initial coin offerings (ICOs) becoming a popular method to fund raise

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Head of Regulatory Practice Nizam Ismail shares with The Straits Times his take on initial coin offerings (ICOs) that is becoming a popular method of fund raising.  The article was first published in The Straits Times on 2 August 2017.  Scheme's real value lies in the long-term benefits Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd Date: 2 August 2017 Author: Grace Leong The issuing of digital tokens such as virtual coins will face regulation here if they are structured like securities coming under the Securities and Futures Act (SFA), the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said yesterday. The clarification comes in the wake of a rise in initial coin offerings (ICOs) here as a means of fund raising. The US Securities and Exchange Commission last week also issued a report that virtual coins or tokens may be securities - subject to the federal securities laws. ICOs are prone to money laundering and terrorism financing risks, given the anonymity of transactions and the ease of quickly raising large sums, MAS said. Some digital tokens can confer on holders certain rights such as services, non-monetary rewards and physical assets such as gold. A virtual currency is a type of digital token, which typically functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account or a store of value. Previously, MAS had said that while virtual currencies per se were not regulated, the offerors of such currencies would be regulated in relation to money laundering and terrorism financing risks. But now, MAS has said offers of digital tokens will be regulated if they are structured like securities, debt, or units in a collective investment scheme under SFA. MAS' position of not regulating virtual currencies is similar to that of most jurisdictions. But it noted the function of digital tokens has evolved. For example, digital tokens may represent ownership or a security interest over an issuer's assets or property. Issuers of such tokens would be required to register a prospectus with MAS prior to the offering of such tokens, unless exempted. They would also be subject to licensing requirements under the SFA and Financial Advisers Act, unless exempted, and to the applicable requirements on anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing. Platforms offering secondary trading of such tokens have to be MAS-approved as a recognised market operator under SFA. The regulator is also assessing how to regulate money laundering and terrorism financing risks associated with activities involving digital tokens that do not function solely as virtual currencies. Angel investor David Lee said this is "positive because MAS has issued clear statements on what constitutes a token offering. The key thing is the token must not be backed or linked to an underlying security or debt''. He added: "If you try to do a Reit through an offer of tokens, then that is a security offering. If you are offering rights like a right to vote, or using certain facilities in a software, then that is not regulated by MAS. There are a lot of token offerings in that category." Mr Nizam Ismail, partner and head of regulatory practice of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, said ICOs are a "cost-efficient way to raise funds". "But the issuer will have to get independent legal advice on whether their coins or tokens are securities, because the offer of securities without a prospectus where required is a criminal offence." He warned: "The moment there is a fraudulent offer, that will affect investor confidence, and kill the entire market."
August 2, 2017

Co-Head of Employment Practice Vernon Voon shares with Channel NewsAsia his views on the new Tripartite Standard on Employment of Term Contract Employees

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Co-Head of Employment Practice Vernon Voon was interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on the new Tripartite Standard on Employment of Term Contract Employees. The interview was aired on Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Tonight segment on 31 July 2017. This interview makes relation to the new tripartite standard launched by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation. The new standard aims to let term contract employees obtain better benefits such as leave benefits, training and notice period. Vernon’s view was that the new standard is only a guideline and thus, if breached, does not constitute an offence. However, he also noted that “the Ministry of Manpower takes breaches of guidelines seriously” and “reserve the right to take this into account whenever they need to exercise discretion regarding the companies’ requests on the employment front”.
July 28, 2017

Banking & Finance Partner Gerard Ng shares with The Business Times the uncertainty of applicability of Singapore law to virtual currency or related technology, in response to “proptech” companies using blockchain platforms to “tokenise” property

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing's Banking & Finance Partner Gerard Ng shared with The Business Times on the uncertainty of applicability of Singapore law to virtual currency or related technology, in response to “proptech” companies using blockchain platforms to “tokenise” property. This article was first published in The Business Times on 28 July 2017. Singapore firms dip toes into blockchain tech for property Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 28 July 2017 Author: Lee Mexian AT LEAST two Singapore "proptech" companies are using blockchain platforms to "tokenise" property - that is, to create tokens backed by real estate which investors can buy. It is a pioneering move that is nascent even globally - and is such a new idea that there does not seem to be explicit existing legislation in Singapore governing these digital instruments. The two companies are FundPlaces and Reidao. Three weeks ago, FundPlaces went ahead and launched its real estate-backed cryptocurrency called Tiles. Investors are issued these digital tokens in exchange for Singapore dollars, with each token being entitled to the cashflow of the underlying real estate investment which it references. (Most of FundPlaces' projects for which it is raising funds are in Australia and the UK.) A blockchain is basically a way to maintain a database without a central authority. It makes it feasible to have a fully distributed database in which users always have the most updated version of the database. FundPlaces' co-founder and chief executive Brian Wee named three advantages of using blockchain: It makes it transparent for investors, as every transaction is recorded and visible on the chain; It reduces the cost of investment, since there are no asset managers involved; and It improves the liquidity of real estate, because the capital outlay for buying a token is much smaller than that for an entire property. The response has been encouraging so far, he added. Within two weeks of launch, FundPlaces raised £200,000 (S$355,808) for the co-financing of a UK residential development project. It also raised about A$30,000 (S$32,534) out of a targeted A$500,000 for another residential development project in Perth. Both projects are targeted to offer returns of 15 per cent or higher. Asked for its stance on such instruments, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) cautioned caveat emptor ("Buyer, beware"), citing the potential abuse of such platforms for criminal activity. Its spokeswoman said: "The anonymity afforded by such new technologies and products, as well as the potentially wider reach at faster speeds, could certainly allow criminals to abuse them to cloak their illicit activities and gains. "Whether the offer and exchange of digital tokens on blockchain-enabled platforms constitute an activity to be regulated by the MAS depends on the facts of the case. MAS is closely watching this space." The regulator added that platforms and products that fall within the Securities and Futures Act (SFA) and Financial Advisers Act (FAA) will have to be regulated, and be subject to obligations to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism. This will apply no matter where their investors are based - a pertinent point, given that online blockchain platforms essentially open the floodgates for investors from across the world to take part in deals. Gerard Ng, a partner in the banking and finance practice at RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, had helped FundPlaces draft its documentation and structure its transactions. He described the job as "novel" but "not easy". He said he had to start with the most basic of definitions, for instance by answering the question of whether the digital token, Tile, is considered to be a security, which would subject it to the SFA. He decided that it was not, because it was neither a debt nor equity instrument. Because FundPlaces does not dispense advice on corporate finance, he concluded that this would exempt it from the need to apply for a licence to operate, as required under the FAA. He said: "Our laws were not designed with virtual currency or related technology in mind. Businesses that offer products and services using innovative technology have to deal with issues surrounding the uncertainty of the applicability of certain laws to such products and services." In this regard, the US appears to be a step ahead. The Securities and Exchange Commission this week said companies that raise money through the sale of digital assets must adhere to federal securities laws and must register the deals with the government, as should exchanges that offer trading of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether. Mg Ng said: "Existing legal regimes are still applicable and relevant, and must be looked at in detail. Structuring the transaction involved lateral thinking and copious research to understand the technology, the products and business model." He also referred to existing laws such as contract law to develop a set of rules to govern the legal relationship between his client, FundPlaces, and its investors; he also had to consider laws governing real estate in the jurisdictions in which the properties are located. Meanwhile, Reidao is beating its own path. Its co-founder and chief executive Darvin Kurniawan said that its blockchain platform is still at the proof-of-concept stage; it is planning to test it by acquiring three properties in Malaysia next month and allowing the community to subscribe to them. Unlike FundPlaces, which uses its own private blockchain platform - meaning that only its members have access to it and only the operator can add blocks to the chain - Reidao uses the public Ethereum blockchain. It also uses the gold-backed token called DGX, which is more stable than the volatile Bitcoin and Ether. How the process works: When the full amount for a property has been raised in tokens, Reidao liquidates this amount to buy the property in the local fiat currency. At distribution time, cash is converted back to gold and then to DGX, which is paid out to token holders. Mr Kurniawan said his company had contacted MAS when it started working on the idea, but the central bank did not "make any real comments" due to the lack of legislation to instruct the process. Reidao is now just observing the relevant rules, such as laws on trust entities, into which it plans to place its properties. Both FundPlaces and Reidao recognise the risk that "dirty" money can be laundered through their platforms. To overcome this, they have put in place know-your-customer (KYC) and due-diligence processes at the pre-registration phase. FundPlaces' Mr Wee said, for example, that his outfit requires its Singapore investors to have a local bank account, so the banks (and their own KYC processes) act as a "first shield". FundPlaces plans to expand to Australia, China or India. Mr Wee said: "It is probably a little less risky now, because we are dealing mainly in Singapore and funds come in from people with Singapore bank accounts. But once we start going overseas, there will be much higher risks." Mr Ng from RHTLaw added that no platform operator can guarantee that its platform is not being used to launder money: "Despite the negativity associated with payment using virtual currency due to the use of Bitcoin as payment for illicit goods and to launder money, the fact remains that virtual currency can be an ideal and a legitimate means of payment for goods and services," he said.