By Yasmeen Banu
Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced last week that they would be introducing a Small Claims Employment Tribunal, to benefit all workers so they’d be able to resolve employment dispute in a better way with their employers.
This tribunal will include managers and executives earning above $4500.
Currently, should a breach of employment arise, managers and executives can only pursue these breaches through civil suits. Most workers are covered by the Employment Act and those earning less than $4500 a month can seek out to MOM for help regarding salary disputes.
For workers covered under the Act, MOM’s proposal is for the Tribunal to take over the role of the Commissioner of Labour to handle clashes on statutory-related disputes under the Act, and other salary-related contractual terms and conditions – such as commissions, bonuses or annual wage supplement payments.
The proposed Tribunal is intended to provide workers with “an expeditious and affordable dispute–resolution mechanism for their employment disputes”, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said.
He added that unions would complement the move and continue to help and advise workers.
Within the next two years, a measure that will be made compulsory is firms having to provide employment contracts with key terms, such as salary and job scope, in written form to prevent misunderstandings and disputes.
Besides the proposed Tribunal, MOM is also working with tripartite partners to improve the tripartite mediation framework for union members in non-unionised companies.
For now, the Tribunal is welcomed by Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).
Diana Chia, president of NTUC said, “It covers quite a large majority of employees who are not covered under the Employment Act. With this, it means that more people can have their grievances handled in a more economical way.”
The president of SNEF, Stephen Lee, said, “ In the near future, more than 50 percent of the workforce will be PMEs (Proffesionals, Managers, and Executives). So with this change, there may be more disputes relating to PMEs.”
However, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an Anti Human Trafficking Organization which believes in freedom, justice and hope for all migrant workers does not quite support the Tribunal.
Even though it is a good initiative, Home said, it “excludes migrants, even if it is meant for those who earn salaries which are much higher than a typical low wage migrant worker”.
“Arguments about equality aside, when we create conditions which make it easier to take advantage of migrants (in this case, limiting their access to justice) employers may be encouraged to hire them, a practice which will ultimately hurt Singaporean workers.”
On the other hand, while SNEF thinks it is generally a good move, it may be a challenge for the smaller firms to detail such employment terms. This is with regards to MOM making it mandatory for employers to state key terms in employment contracts.
Mr. Lee said that some Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) find it very difficult to put down in writing all key functions because the functions change, and the nature of the business changes.
“But even given those constraints, I think there is room to improve on the present practices.”