SINGAPORE: From Saturday (Apr 1), statutory and contractual salary-related claims from employees will be heard at the new Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) at the State Courts instead of the Labour Court in the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
This is expected to speed up the resolution of employment disputes, the State Courts said in a press release announcing the launch of the Tribunals on Friday.
Established under the Employment Claims Act, the ECT will hear all statutory salary-related claims from employees covered under the Employment Act, Retirement and Re-employment Act and Child Development Co-Savings Act.
This includes claims relating to unpaid salaries, overtime pay, salary in lieu of notice, employment assistance payments and maternity benefits, the State Courts said.
In addition, the new ECT will hear more types of claims as compared to the Labour Court as it will hear contractual salary-related claims from employees, including Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) who earn more than S$4,500 per month.
The Tribunals will bridge a gap for PMEs who are not covered under the Employment Act, and whose only recourse prior to the establishment of the ECT would be through the civil courts, the State Courts said.
The claims relating to PMEs could include the payment of allowances, bonuses, commissions, salary in lieu of notice and retrenchment benefits, provided that these are expressed in monetary terms in the contract, it added.
"CHEAPER, BETTER, FASTER"
Like the Small Claims Tribunals, the ECT is designed to provide a speedy, low-cost forum for parties to resolve their employment disputes, according to the State Courts.
It will be judge-led, with no lawyers involved. As its procedures are simplified compared to civil court remedies, the ECT will not be a forum for complicated employment claims and will only have jurisdiction to hear claims up to S$20,000, or S$30,000 if the dispute has undergone mediation assisted by the unions.
The ECT will also only hear cases that have undergone mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), which will start operations on Saturday as well.
"Mediation will play a critical role in the employment dispute resolution process to encourage the parties to resolve the matter amicably," the State Courts said.
Speaking at the launch of TADM on Friday, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the alliance will strive to prevent disputes, but should any disputes arise, also provide a "cheaper, better, faster way" to resolve disputes than to going to civil court.
The TADM will operate from two locations. The centre at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability will focus on local employees and provide job placement and social support services while the branch housed in MOM's service centre in Bendemeer will focus on work pass holders and provide support for workers with pass-related issues.
Employees can apply for mediation online within a year of the dispute, or within six months if the claimant has already left the company.
The application fee is S$10 for claims below S$10,000 and S$20 for those above.
No legal representation will be allowed, but union members can ask for the union to be present.
If a settlement is reached, TADM can help the claimant register the settlement agreement with the State Courts, where it will be as legally binding as a court order.
But if the employer disputes the claim or is unwilling to pay, TADM will refer the case to the ECT.
There, a judgement order will be issued after adjudication by the tribunals and TADM will monitor if payment is made. TADM will also refer the case to MOM for appropriate enforcement actions if the order remains unpaid.
MOM said nine in 10 salary claims are currently resolved amicably settled through mediation within a month and TADM will work towards providing a similar service standard.
For those that have to escalate the claims to the ECT, there is a fee of S$30 for claims below S$10,000 and S$60 for those above.
MOM is also funding a Short Term Relief Fund equivalent to one month's salary, with a cap of S$1,000, to help low-wage workers in cases where employers are unable to repay salaries due to financial difficulties or business failures.
The fund is also means-tested and expected to cover the bottom 20th percentile of the workforce, it said.
Beyond resolving disputes, TADM can connect workers with the Employment and Employability Institute to help them find jobs or refer them to social service officers if necessary.
It will also provide access to legal clinics, if legal advice on contractual terms is needed or if the case is worth pursuing in the civil courts.
For disputes not covered under the legislation, TADM can provide advisory services or offer voluntary mediation to help parties resolve the dispute.