More workers to get help with employment-related disputes

The office crowd in Central Business District in Singapore.
The office crowd in Central Business District in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - From Saturday (April 1), more workers will be able to receive help in resolving employment-related disputes.

Two offices that tackle such issues will begin operations - the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) which will provide advisory and mediation services, and the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) which will hear salary-related claims that cannot be settled through mediation.

Previously, only employees covered under the Employment Act could take their salary claims to the Manpower Ministry (MOM). This excluded managers and executives earning a basic salary of more than $4,500 a month, who had to take their cases to the civil courts.

The new TADM will not have a salary cap. It can also provide advice and mediation for other types of employment issues which may not be covered by employment laws.

Launched on Friday (March 31) by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, it will provide a "cheaper, better, faster way to resolve disputes compared with going to the Civil Courts", he said.

Both TADM and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) will now come under a new company called Tripartite Alliance Limited, Mr Lim said.

Tafep works to prevent disputes from arising through advocating good workplace practices, while TADM will help to manage disputes that arise.

This organisation will strengthen the partnership between the government, unions and employers. Its board chairman is former Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Stephen Lee.

Other board members include National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How, SNEF vice-president Douglas Foo and MOM Permanent Secretary Aubeck Kam.

It plans to tackle workplace safety and health next.

TADM services for Singaporeans and permanent residents will be located at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong, while foreigners can visit the TADM office at the MOM Services Centre in Bendemeer.

TADM, which was announced by Mr Lim last year (2016), has a claims limit of $20,000, or $30,000 for union members. Mediation for salary claims is compulsory, and voluntary for other types of disputes.

For Singapore low-wage workers whose employers are unable to pay salaries owed due to business failure, financial aid of one-month's salary capped at $1,000 is available under MOM's new Short-Term Relief Fund.

There will be a $10 fee to register claims of below $10,000, and a $20 fee for higher claims. These will be waived for low-wage workers.

The National Trades Union Congress will have officers at TADM to provide extra support for members of its U Network of unions and associated organisations. U Network members will not have to make an appointment to see a TADM officer.

Union members will also have their fees waived and can be accompanied by a union representative during mediation at TADM for statutory and contractual salary-related claims.

The Employment Claims Tribunals, set up by the State Courts, will operate like the Small Claims Tribunals to provide a speedy, low-cost way for people to resolve salary-related disputes. It will have simplified procedures and will be judge-led, with no lawyers involved.

The tribunals can hear claims for legal entitlements like unpaid salaries, as well as contractual claims like retrenchment benefits.

The claim amount is capped at $20,000, or $30,000 if the unions have helped to mediate the dispute.