In February 2016, the Ministry of Manpower invited public feedback on the proposed Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT). The call for feedback can be seen at this link on the Reach website.
Key points in the proposal include:
- ECT to be a tribunal under the State Courts, similar to Small Claims Court;
- ECT to handle all salary-related claims, regardless of salary level;
- Will not hear other employment grievances (e.g. unfair dismissal, discrimination);
- Will not at the start cover domestic workers and seafarers, though they may be included later;
- Salary-related claims can be under statutory legislation such as the Employment Act, or provided for in private contract;
- Claimants must first go through mediation, conducted by MOM, before right of hearing;
- In line with Small Claims Court, maximum claim amount is to be $20,000;
- Claims must be filed within one year of grievance arising.
TWC2’s submission’s clusters our views into three broad groups:
Points for Clarification
A1: Claims based on the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) and its subsidiary legislation must be explicitly included within the scope of the ECT;
A2: We agree with the cap of $20,000, but unlike the Small Claims Court, there should not be a requirement for both parties to agree to the jurisdiction of the tribunal, before the tribunal can hear claims between $10,000 and $20,000;
A3: Foreign workers should be assured of the right to stay in Singapore through the entire process.
Points for Reform
B1: Once EFMA is included within the scope of the ECT (as TWC2 urges), domestic workers, whose salary rights are based on EFMA, should also be included;
B2: Mediation process needs reform: specially trained persons to lead the mediation, and to address the present situation where many workers feel pressured to settle for a fraction of what they are owed.
Recommended procedural and policy improvements
C1: There should be written grounds of decision;
C2: Claimants who are work permit holders and other disadvantaged parties (e.g. inadequate command of English) should routinely be permitted to bring two nominees to mediation and hearings to them;
C3: The ECT legislation should provide guidance to Referees at tribunals to draw adverse inferences should
(a) employers present as evidence documents such as contracts or salary vouchers, which at the time they were drawn up or executed, no copies were given to workers — this failure to provide copies to be seen as an attempt to disadvantage or conceal, or
(b) employers pay salaries in cash — such a choice to be seen as an attempt to avoid a bank audit trail; or
(c) when an employer asserts that an employee “agreed” to a change in terms of employment in a direction adverse to the employee within 12 months of starting on the job.
C4: The role of the ECT should include enforcement. Should a private limited company employer fail to pay when so ordered by the ECT, the claimant should be able to obtain a variation of the ECT Order holding directors, major shareholders and senior executives of the company personally liable.