More PMEs may get help in disputes with employers

One hundred and five people were honoured at the May Day 2014 awards in recognition for their contributions to the Labour Movement, including DPM Teo Chee Hean and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, both of whom receive the Medal of Honour Award, the high
One hundred and five people were honoured at the May Day 2014 awards in recognition for their contributions to the Labour Movement, including DPM Teo Chee Hean and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, both of whom receive the Medal of Honour Award, the highest award this year. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mediation panel under review, higher salary ceiling being considered

More professionals who join unions may soon get help when they have problems with their employers, whether or not their companies are unionised or recognise their unions.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin pointed at this possibility yesterday, when he revealed that a mediation panel handling such disputes is under review.

Under consideration, he said, is the raising of the monthly salary ceiling of people who can seek mediation beyond the current $4,500. Such a move would benefit more professionals, executives and managers (PMEs).

Mr Tan was speaking at a dinner to mark May Day tomorrow.

Rank-and-file workers may also take their disputes to the panel - something that they are not able to do now.

Another area under study is expanding the scope of the panel to cover more issues.

"The expanded scope... will strengthen the employment dispute resolution landscape in Singapore," said Mr Tan.

The details will be announced when the review is completed, he added.

Currently, the panel, called the Tripartite Mediation Framework, handles only disputes on salary arrears, payment of retrenchment benefits and breach of contract by an employer.

It was formed in 2011 by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Although it is a voluntary conciliation process, employers can be ordered by the MOM to turn up or risk a fine of up to $5,000.

Mr Tan said the panel has resolved many of the disputes it handled in the past three years. It has heard 12 cases since it was set up, the MOM told The Straits Times.

News of the review came barely a week after the MOM proposed setting up a labour tribunal.

The tribunal will open its doors to all local employees who have salary disputes with their employers, regardless of how much they earn and whether or not they are union members.

It is unclear if the labour tribunal and mediation panel will overlap in their roles, as both are still being discussed by NTUC, SNEF and MOM.

The strong role unions play in improving workers' well-being was underlined by Mr Tan.

The three-way partnership of unions, companies and the Government, he said, "has played a very important role and a very significant part" in Singapore's economic and social progress.

"As long as we keep working together as one, despite the differences, despite the inherent tensions that will arise, I am confident that we will continue to make Singapore a land of opportunities," he added.

The May Day dinner at Orchid Country Club was attended by about 1,600 guests, including union leaders, company bosses and civil servants.

At the dinner, NTUC secretary-general Lim Swee Say presented NTUC's highest award, the Medal of Honour, to Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Rarely given, the award was last presented in 2004 to then Trade and Industry Minister George Yeo.

It was given in recognition of Mr Yeo's key role in crafting free trade agreements for Singapore that had created thousands of jobs here.

There were five other Medal of Honour recipients in the past 20 years: Mr Lee Yock Suan (2002), Mr Lee Hsien Loong (1999), Mr Wong Kan Seng (1998), Mr Lee Boon Yang (1996) and Mr Mah Bow Tan (1993).

A record 105 May Day awards were also given by the NTUC to unionists, employers and government officials this year.

NTUC president Diana Chia said of the award recipients: "We could not have achieved such positive outcomes for workers and union members without their strong support."

NTUC will hold its May Day Rally tomorrow at the new Devan Nair Institute of Employment and Employability in Jurong East, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong giving his annual address to workers.

tohyc@sph.com.sg