Parliament: Employment Claims Tribunals will start in April 2017 with more salary protection for PMEs

The new Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) will be able to start hearing salary-related disputes between workers and employers from April next year.
The new Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) will be able to start hearing salary-related disputes between workers and employers from April next year.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From April next year, the new Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) will be able to start hearing salary-related disputes between workers and employers, after a law setting out their mandate was passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 16).

First proposed in 2014, the ECT will cover workers at all salary levels, including those who do not come under the Employment Act, such as professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) earning more than $4,500 a month who would otherwise have to file claims with the civil courts. Employers can also make claims for payments if employees terminate their contract without notice.

A total of 18 types of contractual employment claims such as bonus payments, overtime payments and retrenchment benefits, as well as 43 statutory employment claims under various Acts fall under the tribunals' jurisdiction.

There is growing demand for access to an affordable and expeditious way to resolve salary-related disputes, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say. This is especially so for PMEs, whose number has gone up by about 20 per cent over the past decade and is set to rise further.

"To ensure that our employment dispute resolution landscape remains relevant going forward, the proposed Employment Claims Tribunals will help more employees resolve more types of salary-related disputes with their employers," Mr Lim told Parliament.

Before claims can be heard at the ECT, all parties will have to go through mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) which will also be set up by April next year. Mediation has been successful in resolving 90 per cent of Labour Court claims, said Mr Lim.

The process must be started - through a request for mediation - within one year after the claim arises, or within six months if the employment relationship has ended.

Neither party can be legally represented in the ECT. If mediation is successful, a settlement agreement can be signed and registered with the District Court so that it becomes a binding Court Order. If mediation is unsuccessful, the mediator will issue a refer the case to the ECT.

Mr Lim stressed that the ECT is not meant to take over the role of the unions, which have been doing conciliation work for years. The claims limit for the ECT will be $30,000 for cases which involve unions in mediation, compared with $20,000 for all other claims.

Also, from April next year, more union members will be able to use the existing Tripartite Mediation Framework, which now covers PME union members earning less than $4,500 a month in non-unionised companies.

This is through an amendment to the Industrial Relations Act also passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Aug 16) removing the salary cap and allowing rank-and-file workers to use it as well. The framework will be expanded to include re-employment disputes and disputes over other statutory employment benefits such as public holiday pay and maternity benefits.