Mandatory mediation may be expanded to non-salary disputes

Ms Vijaya Ashok Kumar managed to recover $20,000 in pay that her former employer owed her with the help of mediators at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management.
Ms Vijaya Ashok Kumar managed to recover $20,000 in pay that her former employer owed her with the help of mediators at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management.PHOTO: TAFEP

Workers who are dismissed unfairly may soon get help compelling their employers to attend mediation sessions.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the Government, unions and employers are in talks to expand the scope of the Employment Claims Act to provide for mandatory mediation in non-salary-related disputes. The aim is to reach an agreement by next year, he said.

Currently, the Act coverssalary-related disputes. Other disputes are dealt with through voluntary mediation.

Of particular concern is the issue of wrongful dismissals of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs), Mr Lim told reporters after a seminar on good dispute management practices. "On the whole, the workplace in Singapore is harmonious, I think we do have industrial peace, but we should never take this for granted," he said.

During the event, he also gave a six-month update on the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). This office - which has two locations, in Jurong East and Bendemeer - was set up in April to provide advice and conduct mandatory and voluntary mediation for employment disputes.

The office has handled 4,600 salary dispute cases, and helped resolve 3,100 cases as of last month.

Nine in 10 employees managed to recover their unpaid salaries in full, amounting to about $5 million.

Among those who sought help were 300 PMEs who previously could recover unpaid salaries only through the civil courts.

Speaking to 400 company officials at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong East, Mr Lim noted that TADM helps more categories of employees as it has no salary cap for workers who seek help.

Before the inception of TADM, only workers covered under the Employment Act could take their salary claims to the Manpower Ministry. Managers and executives earning a basic monthly salary of over $4,500 had to go to the civil courts.

The office also facilitates the resolution of disputes not covered by employment laws, said Mr Lim. It has held voluntary mediation for about 100 such cases, of which seven in 10 were settled as of last month. Common cases include disputes relating to dismissals and performance appraisals.

Beyond dispute resolution, the centre also assisted 170 workers with employment disputes by linking them up with job search help or financial assistance, for example.

One of those who sought help in April was Ms Vijaya Ashok Kumar, 46, a former executive director in the beauty industry who was owed four months of salary amounting to $20,000 when she resigned last December. Her TADM mediator set up a meeting with a representative of her former employer, which had been going through financial difficulties. The two sides agreed on a payment schedule. She also took the mediator's advice to register the settlement at the State Courts so that it can be enforced legally.

"If not for the support and tight watch of the mediation officers, I think I would have a lot of difficulty getting my pay," said Ms Ashok, who recovered her salary by July.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Mandatory mediation may be expanded to non-salary disputes'. Print Edition | Subscribe