More help for workers to settle workplace disputes

Mar 27, 2017 07.30PM |

by Suhaile Md

ON THE face of it, salary disputes seem simple enough: Go to court and get your employer cough up what is due. But what about the hidden costs and knock on impact of such a decision? For one, there’s the expense of filing a case. Also, try working for someone you hauled to court – not much love there, one can imagine. Justice should not be costly.

So it’s good that the Manpower Minister Mr Lim Swee Say recognises this. He said earlier this month (Mar 6) in his Committee of Supply speech: “We need to have for a better future… fair and progressive workplaces for all workers.”

“We need to have for a better future… fair and progressive workplaces for all workers.”

To that end, Minister Lim said that the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) and Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), which opens its doors from April 1 this year, will work together to settle all salary related disputes between employees and employers.

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Big names, so what?

Simply put: From next month onwards, more employees can seek recourse, regardless of salary level, for a wider array of issues, when disputes arise.

The ECT is set up under the state courts. Claims will be heard by legally qualified Tribunal Magistrates, in line with courts processes. It replaces the labour court.

Currently, the labour court deals with issues like unpaid salaries, overtime pay, maternity benefits and the like. Basically rights that are backed by statutory laws that fall under the Employment Act, Retirement & Re-employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act.

Those who earn more than $4,500 do not qualify for recourse through the labour court. They need to head to the civil courts where claimants would have to hire a lawyer to be represented.

Not anymore. The ECT will be open to all employees even if they earn more than $4,500. This a boon to both employers and employees. It’s a lower-cost dispute resolutions channel for both parties – there’s no need to hire lawyers for example.

Also, the cost of pursuing claims through the civil courts can be a barrier for claimants who can’t afford it. This presented errant employers with the opportunity to deal unfairly with their workers, knowing that the workers would have no recourse. Now that the barrier to a hearing is gone, employers cannot get away with mistreating their staff.

Furthermore, it will also deal with claims like the payment of allowances, bonuses, and commissions for example. Basically issues that are not specified in the Acts above, but are covered in employee contracts.

The ECT will be open to all employees of all salary levels – not just those who earn less than $4,500.

That’s it, I’m going to the ECT!

Slow down, don’t forget the TADM.

Over 90 per cent of labour court claims were settled via mediation, said Minister Lim in Parliament last year (Aug 16). There was no need for formal hearings in such cases – saving much time, energy, and costs.

Which is why all claimants head to the TADM first. There, TADM officers will advise workers on the options available to them.

If the claims are too complex and fall outside statutory claims, the claimants can then choose to go for voluntary mediation by TADM or proceed straight to the civil courts. TADM will also help workers get in touch with the Singapore Law Society’s legal clinic. Otherwise, for statutory and contractual salary-related claims, TADM will mediate. Only if mediation is unsuccessful will claimants proceed to the ECT.

Simply put: Salary dispute? Head to TADM. It will advise you and mediate between you and your employer. If that doesn’t work, you will be referred to the ECT. Not under ECT? You will be referred to the civil courts.

There’s more…

Sometimes, even after dispute is settled, the relationship between the employer and employee may no longer be the same. And the process itself can be stressful.

With that in mind, new services have been added. TADM has partnered with Workforce Singapore (WSG) and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to help with employment issues. TADM has also roped in the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s social services offices to provide emotional and social support to help workers and their families through the tough time.

TADM will provide short term financial relief to low-wage workers in the bottom 20th percentile of the workforce. But only if the claimants are unable to draw a salary whether due to employer’s business failure or inability to pay wages.

The opening of the TADM and ECT is welcome news. Shady employers who preyed on their workers inability to seek recourse will now think twice – protections for employees just increased a good deal.

Where’s the TADM?

For local employees: Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (DNI),
80 Jurong East Street 21

 For work pass holders: Ministry Of Manpower Services Centre,
1500 Bendemeer Road.


This article is part of a series on employment in partnership with the Ministry of Manpower.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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