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Singapore – MOM Proposes Small Claims Tribunal To Hear Salary Disputes.

9 May, 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore – Labour & Employment

 

The Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) is looking into establishing a small claims tribunal (“Tribunal”) to resolve salary and other employment-related disputes. This was announced on 24 April 2014 by Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

 
The proposed Tribunal will serve as a dispute resolution forum accessible by all workers to resolve their employment disputes quickly and affordably. According to Mr Tan, the Tribunal will provide “all workers [with] an expeditious and affordable dispute resolution mechanism for their employment disputes.” This suggests that all workers, whether covered under the Employment Act (“Act”) or not, from rank-and-file all the way up to chief executive officer level, will be able to avail themselves of the Tribunal’s processes.

 
In terms of the types of disputes which could be heard by the Tribunal, Mr Tan stated that “workers will be able to lodge claims, subject to a certain claims limit, for statutory issues provided for in the Employment Act such as salary claims and other salary-related matters as specified in the employment contract.” The other salary-related matters include commissions, bonuses or annual wage supplement (“AWS”) payments.

 
The announcement is welcome news for all workers, but especially for those who do not currently receive statutory protection under the Act, if indeed the aim of the Tribunal is to cater to all employees, whether covered under the Act or otherwise.

 
Currently only workers covered by the Act can seek MOM’s help with salary disputes. The Act applies to workers who are employed under a contract of service with an employer, including workmen but excluding seafarers, domestic workers and persons working in a managerial or executive position with a monthly salary of more than SGD 4,500. Employees not covered by the Act can take out a civil action in court to enforce the terms of their employment contract, but this is usually expensive and time-consuming. Having an alternative avenue to seek redress for their salary-related employment disputes would certainly be useful to them.

 
The setting-up of a dedicated employment law Tribunal will also benefit the development of Singapore’s employment law generally. Amongst several factors, it will see the creation of an expert judicial team which hears matters at the tribunal, given that they will specialise in hearing salary-related employment claims. Employment is an area where the practical issues far outweigh what is expressly provided for in the Act. Employment is also an area where the issues continue to evolve. In short, the creation of the Tribunal mirrors the approach taken in many very established jurisdictions.

 
The Tribunal is one of many initiatives being introduced by MOM to improve the position of workers and employees in recent months. On 1 April 2014, several amendments to the Act to strengthen protection of workers came into operation. These changes include: extending Part IV of the Act (on rest hours, hours of work and other conditions of service) to more non-workmen by increasing the qualifying salary threshold to SGD 2,500 (up from SGD 2,000), enabling workers who are employed in managerial or executive positions with a basic monthly salary of up to S$4,500 to be covered by the general provisions of the Act (previously, they were only protected under Part IV) and by enhancing the enforcement and penalty provisions of the Act. 

 
Apart from the establishment of the Tribunal, MOM is also supporting another alternative employment dispute resolution initiative – the enhancement of the tripartite mediation framework for union members in non-unionised companies. The other tripartite partners are the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trade Union Congress.

 
Much more work will have to be done before the Tribunal is established, including public consultation and engagement with all stakeholders involved. It is anticipated that further details will gradually be made available by MOM over the next few months.

 

Rajah & Tann

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Kala Anandarajah, Partner, Rajah & Tann
kala.anandarajah@rajahtann.com

 

Abdul Jabbar, Partner, Rajah & Tann
abdul.jabbar@rajahtann.com

 
Desmond Wee, Partner, Rajah & Tann
desmond.wee@rajahtann.com

 

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