Workplaces, labour laws must be kept secular: MOM

Workplaces and labour laws have to be kept secular to preserve harmony, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, explaining its decision to intervene in a dispute between a church and an employee fired over an adulterous relationship.

It said in a statement: "While each of us will have space to practise our religion, we have to preserve a common secular space for people with other beliefs, and employment is one of these secular spaces. Therefore, our employment legislation has to be secular.

"This is the only way all groups in Singapore can live in peace and harmony."

The remarks were the first from the ministry since The Straits Times reported last week that it had ordered the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) to compensate its staff member.

MOM had rapped the church for sacking the woman without sufficient cause, but the church maintained that the dismissal was fair because the woman failed to meet its moral standards and refused to apologise or stop the relationship.

FCBC told The Straits Times last night that it had already made the payment. A church staff member said that a cheque for about $7,000 was delivered by hand to MOM yesterday with a note that the payment does not prejudice the church's rights under the law. He did not elaborate.

MOM said that it has received the cheque and it plans to pass it to the woman today.

Elaborating on its decision yesterday, an MOM spokesman said that the woman went to the ministry on Sept 15 last year after she was dismissed by the church. She based her complaint on a section of the Employment Act which bars employers from dismissing pregnant employees six months before their expected delivery date without just cause, as it would deprive them of their maternity benefits.

The woman, in her 30s, had worked in the church as an administrative clerk for six years and was seven months pregnant when she was sacked.

MOM said that it wanted to find an amicable solution through mediation and offered various options to the church and the woman. However, it said FCBC was "not prepared to make any offer to the female employee".

After mediation failed, MOM began a formal inquiry and both parties presented their arguments to the Commissioner of Labour. The case then went to Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin for a ruling.

"After considering the facts of the case and the circumstances in which the dismissal took place, the minister was satisfied that the dismissal was without sufficient cause, and, in July 2013, directed FCBC to pay compensation to the female employee," said the spokesman.

tohyc@sph.com.sg