01 Mar 2017

The establishment of Singapore's Employment Claims Tribunal

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From April 2017, the Employment Claims Tribunal (“ECT”) and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management ("TADM") will be set up to provide employers and employees with a way to expeditiously resolve salary-related disputes between employers and employees.

In summary:

  1. The ECT will handle salary-related disputes for almost all employees, regardless of salary level.

  2. Prior mediation is mandatory before the ECT may hear a dispute.

  3. The ECT will hear claims up to a limit of S$20,000 (and S$30,000 where there is union involvement in mediation).

The ECT will handle salary-related disputes even for high pay employees, managers and executives.

What claims

The ECT will hear disputes relating to statutory salary-related disputes arising out of the Employment Act, Retirement and Re-employment Act and the Child Development Co-Savings Act, as well as contractual salary-related claims by employees. This includes disputes relating to overtime pay, public holiday and rest day pay, maternity and other types of leave, re-employment, salary arrears, breach of individual employment contracts, and payment of retrenchment benefits.1

Who can claim

The ECT will be available to all employees, even professionals, managers and executives (“PMEs”) earning more than S$4,500 per month.2

This is significant because, previously, PMEs could only file their claims in the Courts.

Prior mediation is mandatory before the ECT may hear a dispute

Mediation at a recognised forum will be mandatory before a dispute may be heard by the ECT. 

If parties fail to reach a settlement during mediation, the claimant may then proceed with a claim at the ECT.

The Ministry of Manpower ("MOM"), the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employees Federation, will set up a new dispute resolution centre known as the TADM. 

According to the Second Reading Speech at Parliament of the Employment Claims Bill 2016, the TADM will conduct the pre-ECT mediation and serve as an approved mediation centre for all employees, whether unionised or non-unionised.

Union members will continue to enjoy additional remedies3, such as the Tripartite Mediation Framework, MOM conciliation or recourse to the Industrial Arbitration Court.4

Claims will be capped at S$20,000 (S$30,000 where there is union involvement in mediation)

According to the Second Reading Speech at Parliament of the Employment Claims Bill 2016, the claims limit will be capped at S$20,000 save for cases which go through mediation with union involvement, which will be capped at S$30,000.

According to section 14 and 15 of the Employment Claims Bill, a claim cannot be divided and pursued in separate proceedings before the ECT if the only reason for doing so is to bring the total amount alleged to be payable in each of those proceedings within the jurisdiction of the ECT. However, if the total amount alleged to be payable under a claim exceeds the cap, the claimant may abandon the excess amount so as to allow the ECT to have jurisdiction over the claim. If the claimant has abandoned the excess amount, the claimant cannot recover that amount from any other court or tribunal.

A party is not allowed legal representation5 as regards pre-ECT mediation and in ECT proceedings. However, the Government may be represented by a public officer and a body corporate may be represented by an officer or full time employee.

Practical considerations for employers / employees

The establishment of the new ECT and the TADM provides PMEs an alternative recourse for their salary-related disputes.

The ECT may be more cost-effective for both employers and employees to resolve salary-related claims as compared to commencing a claim in the Courts.

Further, given that mediation is an effective way of resolving disputes, many of the claims may be resolved at the mediation stage without having to proceed to the ECT.

Both employers and employees should be aware of the ECT's jurisdiction and scope so that if a salary-related dispute arises, they can take advantage of the ECT to resolve the said claim in what may be a more cost-effective and expeditious process as compared to court proceedings.

1 See the First and Second Schedule of the Employment Claims Bill for the types of disputes that would be heard by the ECT

2 According to the Second Reading Speech at Parliament of the Employment Claims Bill 2016, public servants, domestic workers and seafarers can bring their statutory salary-related disputes to the ECT but cannot do so for contractual salary-related claims.

3 According to the Second Reading Speech at Parliament of the Employment Claims Bill 2016

4 According to the Public Consultation on Proposed Establishment of an Employment Claims Tribunal, the Tripartite Mediation Framework refers to a form of mediation conducted by a conciliation officer, between an executive employee and his employer, with the assistance of tripartite mediation advisors as prescribed under Part IVA of the Industrial Relations Act. MOM conciliation under the Industrial Relations Act refers to conciliation for collective disputes and limited representation disputes under Part III and Part IV of the Industrial Relations Act. Issues that cannot be resolved at conciliation can be referred to the Industrial Arbitration Court.

5 According to the Second Reading Speech at Parliament of the Employment Claims Bill 2016

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KEY CONTACT

Terence Seah

Terence Seah
Partner

T:  +65 6602 6605 M:  Email Terence | Vcard Office:  Singapore

Christine Ong

Christine Ong
Senior associate

T:  +65 6602 6602 M:  +65 9686 3336 Email Christine | Vcard Office:  Singapore