In Singapore, dispute resolution avenues for injury or salary claims are typified by a two- or three-stage process.
For injury cases, the first stage comprises administrative processes under the Ministry of Manpower, keeping costs low for the claimant workers. Should one party disagree with the outcome of this stage, an appeal can be made to the courts — this would be the second stage.
For salary cases, the first stage involves mediation organised by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). If this proves fruitless, the case moves on to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) for adjudication. No legal representation is allowed at either TADM or the ECT.
These initial stages in both injury and salary cases may not require much in terms of financial outlay by claimant workers, though extensive casework support is often needed. Our Wednesday Clinic team provides this intensive support, helping migrant workers overcome educational, language or evidentiary disadvantages during these administrative stages. For example, many are unable to calculate exactly how much they are owed, or how to tease out arguments from whatever documents they have.
It is when a case goes beyond the administrative stages to the High Court, in the form of appeals, that costs kick in. Most cases don’t get this far, but when they do, the financial weakness of migrant workers becomes a barrier to accessing justice. They need legal representation and there are all sorts of costs to be borne, e.g. filing fees, production or extraction of documents, forensic reports, fees for expert witnesses, etc.
TWC2’s Wednesday Clinic helps workers find pro-bono lawyers if they have deserving cases. However, pro-bono lawyers are only free in terms of their time and professional services. Another party needs to pick up the disbursement costs, and it is here that TWC2 has to step in through our Care Fund.