Marking the first anniversary of the new system for salary disputes, the State Courts issued a media statement on 24 April 2018 providing some statistics about the cases they handled during the first twelve months.

From 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018, the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), a unit within the State Courts, saw 1,190 employment claims filed with them. The most common types of cases involved non-payment or short-payment of salaries and/or allowances (78%) and about overtime pay (37%). These are the typical salary-related cases also seen by Transient Workers Count Too among foreign workers.

The statement revealed that 80% of the filed cases had been concluded as at 31 March 2018, and that the “majority of statutory and contractual salary-related claims were concluded within six months from the date of filing.”

It should be noted however, that the “date of filing” mentioned in the statement may refer to filing at the ECT, rather than the date a complaint was first lodged at the Ministry of Manpower. If we add in an estimated duration of the earlier phases at MOM and TADM (explained below), it may not be as rosy as “within six months”.

The journey taken by a salary claim can roughly be divided into four parts:

  1.  Lodging the claim at MOM, during which MOM officers collect some basic facts of the claim. After that, the case is referred to:
  2.  Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) which mediates between employer and employee(s) and tries to arrive at an amicable settlement. If that is not successful, then the case is filed with:
  3.  ECT, which adjudicates the matter and issues an order, after which,
  4.  Enforcement phase which, for many workers, is another problem altogether causing further delay.

The State Courts’ statement explained that during the first year of operation, the ECT issued 732 Money Orders (i.e. judicial orders for one party to pay another) while “other cases were either dismissed or withdrawn.” Presumably, these numbers were in relation to the 80% of cases that had been concluded by 31 March 2018.

One interesting detail was that three in four cases were settled at the case management conference stage, without moving into full hearings. Should orders be issued in these cases, they would be “by consent” of the parties.

The Straits Times also carried a story based on this statement from the State Courts. It can be found here.

MOM has some extra information about the TADM process that occurs prior to a case being referred to the ECT. MOM wrote:

Today all statutory and contractual salary-related cases go through mediation by TADM. For every 100 salary-related claims filed at TADM, about 80 were concluded at TADM within three months. The remaining cases, which tend to be more complex and could not be successfully mediated at TADM, are referred to the ECT. These cases typically involved workers with multiple claims or the parties involved were disputing the facts of the claims. These cases are generally referred to ECT within two months, once we are unable to proceed with the mediation.

At a parliamentary sitting on 20 March 2018, MP Lee Bee Wah posed a question to the Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo. In the exchange, a number of interesting details can be seen.

Dr Lee Bee Wah: asked the Minister for Manpower (a) in 2017, how many mediations have been handled by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM); (b) what have been the outcomes; and (c) when either party refuses to attend the mediation session, what are the options offered under TADM.

The Second Minister for Manpower (Mrs Josephine Teo) (for the Minister for Manpower): Mr Speaker, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) was set up in April 2017, slightly under a year ago, and its purpose was to help employees and employers manage and resolve employment disputes. This includes both salary and non-salary-related disputes. A large majority of the disputes received by TADM are salary-related disputes which are governed under the Employment Claims Act (ECA), where mediation is compulsory. For non-salary disputes, voluntary mediation is offered.

Between April and December 2017, TADM concluded mediation for 6,000 salary-related claims under the ECA. About 95% of these claims were filed by employees, and the remaining by employers for notice pay.

Seventy-nine percent of these 6,000 claims were settled amicably through mediation. Twelve percent were not settled as parties were unable to work out a settlement. These cases were then referred to the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) for adjudication. The remaining 9% were claims involving non-attendance at mediation. In other words, someone did not show up.

One-third of the non-attendance cases were closed as the claimants themselves did not show up. For the remaining two-thirds, when respondents did not attend mediation, claimants could have their claims heard and adjudicated by the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT), even if respondents do not turn up for the hearing. Where there are good grounds, the ECT can and will make a payment order in favour of claimants, for the full claimed amount. As a consequence of non-attendance, the ECT may also order the respondents to pay costs to the claimants.

To date, TADM and the tribunal have helped about 92% of employees with valid salary claims recover their salaries in full. Most of the remaining employees received some form of partial payment.

Dr Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon): Sir, I have two supplementary questions. First, is there any salary cap, or is it that any person can go and file their case at TADM? The second question is, I have a resident who was referred to TADM and the employer did not turn up. TADM says that since the employer did not turn up, so they closed the case. But they should have referred the case to the Employment Claims Tribunal, as the Second Minister mentioned just now. So, perhaps, better training should be given to the staff at TADM. Instead of closing the case, we should see how best to help the claimant, in this case, the employee.

Mrs Josephine Teo: In answer to the first question, I stand corrected, but there is no cap to the claims that can be filed. To the second question, as I said in my earlier reply, even if the respondent does not turn up, it does not prevent the claimant from bringing the matter to the tribunal, and the tribunal will look at the validity of the claims and if the tribunal is convinced that the claimant has filed a valid claim, then the fact that the respondent did not show up at the hearing, does not prevent the tribunal from awarding full payment as claimed to the claimant. In the case of your resident, if there are some particular situation that we are not aware of, I invite the Member to let me know and we will look into it.

Dr Lee Bee Wah: What I meant is that a lot of employees are not aware that they can go to the tribunal. For the staff in TADM, instead of closing the case, they should have told that employees and advise them that they can file in tribunal. So, perhaps, there should be a better training to the TADM staff so as to help the employees or the claimants.

Mrs Josephine Teo: I agree with that.