'Labour Court' title should be dropped: High Court

Term used colloquially to refer to MOM hearings can cause confusion, says judge

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will review the use of the term "Labour Court" in the wake of a High Court judge's suggestion that the term be dropped to avoid confusion.

Justice Woo Bih Li noted the term is not an official name, but is used colloquially by the public and MOM when referring to hearings before an MOM assistant commissioner.

"The Labour Court is not a court constituted by any statute or subsidiary legislation," said Justice Woo. He acknowledged that while it is a "convenient shorthand for everyday use, the inaccurate use of nomenclature should cease...".

The judge's observations came in judgment grounds released on Tuesday. He had overruled a decision by an MOM assistant commissioner in relation to an insurance claim.

In the case before Justice Woo, the assistant commissioner had ruled last June that Liberty Insurance was not liable for a claim in relation to Bangladeshi Rahman Azizur, who was found dead on Oct 2, 2013.

The 33-year-old worker was working for T & Zee Engineering and doing electrical works at the time of his death.

Liberty had initially objected in writing on March 20, 2015, following the notice of assessment sent out by MOM 12 days earlier.

  • Involving insurers early

  • The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday it currently involves insurers early in the Work Injury Compensation Act process, as "our experience is that it enables faster compensation to injured workers".

    "In light of the High Court's comments, MOM will study how the existing practice can be clarified in the primary or subsidiary legislation."

    MOM had found that a claim under the Work Injury Compensation Act was valid, following the death of Bangladeshi worker Rahman Azizur, and compensation of $170,000 was payable to his next of kin.

    The 33-year-old was found dead after doing some electrical works at a worksite in Suntec City on Oct 2, 2013.

    K. C. Vijayan

But in November 2015, as well as at two subsequent pre-hearing conferences, the insurer raised further objections, saying the policy covered only workers who were "tilers" and that the worker had performed electrical works at the time of his death.

The assistant commissioner, under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica), allowed the objection made in November, despite the delay in filing it; applications for time extensions must be made within two weeks of the assessment note.

She also accepted Liberty's objection, but the dead worker's family, through lawyers Amerjeet Singh and Teo Ying Ying, appealed to the High Court, arguing, among other things, that Liberty had no good reason for the delay in raising this objection.

Justice Woo agreed. He noted that Liberty had "plenty of time" from Oct 6, 2013, when it received the incident report from the company, and held that the factors cited were insufficient to ground its late objection.

"The purpose of the Wica scheme is to facilitate expeditious payment to a worker on a non-fault basis. Having regard to this, the reasons for the delay in objecting to a notice of assessment for compensation must carry substantial weight," said Justice Woo.

The judge, in examining how the compensation scheme operates under Wica, noted that the "various steps taken in practice do not match the terms of Wica in various ways".

He added that "the question of locus standi between an insurer and a person claiming compensation has not been addressed in the Wica".

"I suggest that all these matters be properly addressed by primary or subsidiary legislation instead of being left to practice," he said.

The case will revert to an assistant commissioner for further hearings. A pre-hearing conference is scheduled for next week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline ''Labour Court' title should be dropped: High Court'. Print Edition | Subscribe