Following the passage of legislation on 16 August 2016, the new Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) will commence hearing salary-related disputes between employees and employers from April next year.

Accessibility

The ECT will be accessible by workers at all salary levels, including those who do not come under the Employment Act, such as professionals, managers and executives earning more than $4,500 a month. Previously such employees were required to bring salary-related disputes in Singapore's civil courts.

Employers will also be permitted to make a claim in the ECT for payment where an employee terminates his or her contract without notice.

Jurisdiction

The ECT will have jurisdiction to hear:

  • 18 specified types of contractual dispute matters such as disputes in relation to bonus payments, annual wage supplements, overtime payments and termination benefits; and
  • 43 statutory employment claims under various pieces of legislation including in relation to maternity, paternity and childcare benefits, holiday and sick leave payments, employment assistance payments and payments to part-time employees.

The claims limit will be SG$20,000 per case or $30,000 per case which go through mediation with union involvement.

ECT process

The ECT will be set up under the Singapore State Courts and claims will be heard by legally qualified Tribunal Magistrates. Compulsory mediation will precede the hearing of disputes in the ECT.

Mediation

To commence a claim, a claimant must submit a request for mediation within one year from when the claim arises or within six months of termination of employment. Mediation should occur as soon as is reasonably practicable after the request for mediation is submitted. Mediation will generally be conducted by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management in relation to both claims brought by unionised and non-unionised employees.

If mediation is successful, parties are required to sign a settlement agreement which complies with various requirements. Parties may then apply to register the settlement agreement in the District Court so that it becomes enforceable.

Where mediation is unsuccessful, the mediator will issue a claim referral certificate which a claimant must lodge with their claim at the ECT.

Hearings

Like mediations, hearings in the ECT are to be held in private and parties are to act in person, or via an officer or employee in the case of a body corporate.

Legal representation will not be permitted; however, it is understood that union members in unionised companies can be represented by their unions at both mediation and at ECT hearings. Union members in non-unionised companies who undergo mediation via the existing Tripartite Mediation Framework (TMF), can seek consent from the ECT to have their tripartite mediation advisors observe their ECT hearings.

It is anticipated that hearings in the ECT will be conducted in an informal manner and that Tribunal Magistrates will be given broad powers on the conduct of hearings, including the power to evidence and make investigations and inquiries on its own initiative as it sees fit.

It is also anticipated that parties will be able to appeal decisions of the ECT to the High Court on certain grounds.

Key takeaways

As noted, the ECT will have jurisdiction to hear contractual salary-related claims, as well as claims for statutory entitlements. To minimise the risk of claims, employers should therefore take the opportunity to review their contractual arrangements and to audit their compliance with employment laws and statutory obligations ahead of the ECT commencing operations in April next year.