Insight Into Singapore’s Proposed Employment Claims Tribunal.
An Insight into Singapore’s Proposed Employment Claims Tribunal
On 23 March 2016, the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) closed the feedback period for the public consultation on the proposed establishment of an Employment Claims Tribunal (“ECT”).
If implemented, the ECT could be a positive development from the employee-claimant perspective as its primary goal is to provide a designated forum for the efficient resolution of wage-related disputes.
To get a better insight into the proposed ECT, we spoke with the labour and employment lawyers at Shook Lin & Bok LLP, and here is what they had to say.
Conventus Law: What are the key features of the proposed ECT?
Shook Lin & Bok LLP: Key features of the proposed ECT include the following:
- Established as a Tribunal of the State Courts (similar to the Small Claims Tribunal)
- Inclusive coverage to handle salary-related claims for all employees who have an employment contract with their employers
- Types of claims will be salary-related claims (either statutory or non-statutory in nature)\
- Claimants must go through a mediation process before their cases can be heard by the ECT
- Claims are subject to a claims limit
- A time limit applies for the filing of claims to the ECT
CL: The ECT will have limited jurisdiction to only hear salary related claims. What specific types of salary disputes will the ECT will be able to hear?
SLB: It is expected that the ECT will hear salary-related claims expressly provided in monetary terms in employment contracts.
Such claims could include those relating to salary in-lieu of notice, non-payment of salary, overtime payments, unauthorised deductions from salary, non-payment of contractual bonuses, unpaid commission claims, encashment of unused leave and financial benefits found within employment contracts.
CL: Do you foresee any grey areas in the ECT’s jurisdiction?
SLB: It is not clear whether the ECT will hear salary claims arising from disputes over the interpretation of contractual clauses (e.g. whether or not an employee is contractually entitled to bonuses under his/her employment contract because it is unclear if it has been adequately addressed in monetary terms).
There could also be cases where the ECT would be required to determine whether a claim falls within its jurisdiction e.g. a claim for non-payment of salary in-lieu of notice may overlap with a claim for unfair dismissal.
CL: What happens if the salary dispute is based upon a claim such as gender or age discrimination?
SLB: It is unlikely for such claims to be heard by the ECT.
The proposed ECT does not preside over claims for other workplace grievances. Consequently, it would be against the rationale of the ECT to hear salary-related claims based on gender or age discrimination.
CL: If an employee has multiple claims against an employer, including a salary related claim, may all claims be heard in civil court or will the employee be forced to file the salary related claim in the ECT and pursue his/her other claims in civil court or other avenues?
SLB: There is currently no information on the above. However it is unlikely that the employee will be forced to file the salary-related claim in the ECT rather than make a civil claim. In matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunal (the “SCT”), it is always open to those claimants to commence civil action even if the matter could be adjudicated by the SCT. Consistent with this approach, it would be likely that an employee could bring the claim in the civil courts rather than the ECT, particularly if there are multiple claims involved.
CL: In addition to the ECT having limited jurisdiction over salary related claims, there are claim caps for cases in the ECT. What are the claim caps?
SLB: Claims brought to the ECT will be capped at S$20,000. A higher claim cap of S$30,000 will apply to claimants who go through the Tripartite Mediation Framework or MOM conciliation prescribed under the Industrial Relations Act.
CL: What options does a claimant have if his/her claim exceeds the SGD $20,000/SGD $30,000 limit?
SLB: A claimant will have to file his/her claim with the civil courts if it exceeds the jurisdiction limit.
CL: Is there an option to have the case removed to another court if after the case is filed in the ECT, the claimant learns his/her case is worth more than the ECT’s claim cap?
SLB: There is currently no information on the above. If the ECT is similar to the SCT, then it is likely that the claim can be transferred to another Court.
CL: How effective will the ECT be, given the limited jurisdiction over salary related disputes and claim caps?
SLB: The ECT is a positive development as it expands the available avenues for dispute resolution to all employees, in particular professionals, managers and executives (“PMEs”). The pre-condition of mediation to encourage parties to resolve their differences amicably is also a step in the right direction.
However, given that claims are confined to salary disputes and subject to a claim cap, PMEs with higher claim amounts or face other grievances may find themselves in the same position as before. These employees will be left with no alternative but to seek redress through the civil courts.
CL: Who may bring a claim under the ECT, and how does this differ from the current legal scheme?
SLB: All employees who have an employment contract with their employers, regardless of salary level, may bring a claim to the ECT, including PMEs earning more than S$4,500 per month. However, public servants, domestic workers and seafarers are not able to file claims with the ECT when the ECT is first set up.
Currently, the Labour Court under the MOM provides adjudication services to resolve salary-related claims between employers and employees who are covered under the Employment Act. PMEs earning more than S$4,500 a month would have to file their claims with the civil courts.
CL: Are there any prerequisites to filing a claim with the ECT?
SLB: Both the afore-mentioned claim cap and time limit to filing a claim with the ECT would apply.
CL: What is the statute of limitations for the filing of claims within the ECT?
SLB: A claim must be filed for mediation within one year from the date on which the claim arises. If the employment relationship has ended, the claim must be filed within six months from the end of employment.
CL: When does a “claim” technically arise for purposes of the SOL, when the employee first discovers it or when it actually first occurred?
SLB: Assuming the ECT mirrors the SCT on this issue, time will start running from when the cause of action accrues – i.e. when the breach of contract occurs.
CL: For employers, is the ECT a welcomed addition to the suite of labour dispute resolution options or something that they view as burdensome or potentially claimant-friendly?
SLB: In light of the expanded coverage of the ECT, employers may face an increase in salary-related claims filed by both existing and former employees. Apart from the above, employers would have to exercise greater caution in their employment and/or HR decisions which could be scrutinised by the ECT. It is also presently unclear if parties before the ECT may be represented by external lawyers. If companies cannot be represented by external lawyers in these proceedings, claims in the ECT may lead to more time and/or resources being expended by a company’s HR or management representatives dealing with ECT claims.
Nonetheless, the ECT remains a positive development as it provides an expeditious and affordable avenue for parties to resolve their salary disputes instead of undergoing court proceedings which can be costly and time-consuming.
Stephanie Wee, Partner, Shook Lin & Bok