Singapore: The Employment Claims Tribunal for hearing and settling salary-related disputes of all workers, regardless of the income levels will be up and running by April next year. The laws providing for its establishment was passed by the Parliament yesterday, even as the members felt that the law could have gone ahead to serve more workers.
This tribunal to be set up under the State Courts will assume the role of Labour Court to hear statutory salary-related disputes – these include unpaid salary and maternity benefits, claims of upto S$20,000 from all workers – from interns under contract of service to professionals. The limit set is S$30,000 for all cases mediated with the union and tripartite involvement.
The tribunal will preside over the employee’s contractual salary related claims, to include the payment of bonuses and allowances. The tribunal will also hear claims from employers regarding the notice pay.
Claims with the Employment Tribunal can only be filed after both the parties have attempted first mediation at a new centre called ‘Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management’ which will also be officially launched by April next year. Resolution provided at the mediation sessions are legally binding and can be enforced by the courts. At the tribunal, parties cannot be represented by lawyers, but the cases will be heard by legally qualified magistrates.
As of now, the court adjudicates salary-related claims of workers under the Employment Act of those who earn upto S$4,500 per month. However, those with larger pay cheques should file their claims with the civil courts, which would entail a long and expensive process.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said in Parliament yesterday, “The new tribunal will help more employees resolve more types of salary-related disputes with their employers.” While not disclosing the number of disputes last year, he said the labour court had heard close to 1,630 salary-related issues in 2014.
While some members of the parliament expressed concerns stating that claimants without the capacity and knowledge may not be able to represent themselves adequately during mediation or at the tribunal, while some others pointed out that an employer can appoint a legally trained employee to represent them.
Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Gan Thiam Poh are of an opinion that the tribunal could have encompassed further workplace disputes to include discrimination, sexual and emotional abuse, unfair dismissal etc. While unfair dismissal and discrimination could form a part of the salary disputes in certain cases, Tan noted that it would be injustice to both employees and the employer if the Tribunal disregard such issues and evidence completely.
Responding to the issue on the claim limits being really low, Lim said that there are currently no limits set on claims made by rank and file workers. However, the government found that for rank-and-file workers, the claims of S$20,000 is more than adequate. This figure will be reviewed from time to time.
Not allowing legal representation, Lim responded this was to ensure workers were not disadvantaged since employers are most likely to afford such representation. Furthermore, claimant’s next-of-kin may apply to the courts to serve as a deputy under the Mental Capacity Act.
The Government is further deliberating on the fees to be tiered according to claim amounts, and some “deserving” low-wage workers would receive a complete waiver. The Ministry is also in the process of establishing a short-term relief fund for workers, mired in situations wherein companies may have shuttered and cannot make payment.