The key features of the anticipated Employment Claims Tribunal  ("ECT") are now set out in the Ministry of Manpower ("MOM")'s public consultation document on the ECT released on 25 February 2016, and the State Courts Workplan 2016 released on 4 March 2016.

In summary :

  • The ECT will handle salary related-disputes for all levels of employees regardless of salary, with a few exceptions. 
  • The ECT will reside within the Singapore court system, not MOM, and will replace MOM's Labour Court.
  • Mediation will be mandatory before the ECT hears a claim. 
  • Claims will be capped at S$20,000 or S$30,000 depending on the mediation forum used. 
  • Time limits apply – claims must be brought within 12 months of the dispute arising, or within 6 months following termination of employment.

The ECT will handle salary related-disputes for all levels of employees regardless of salary, with a few exceptions

Only salary-related claims arising from legislation such as the Employment Act, or from expressly provided terms in employment contracts, will be dealt with by the ECT. The public consultation document mentions that examples of salary-related claims include bonuses and salary in lieu of notice. 

All levels of employees including managers and executives may bring claims, regardless of level or salary. 

Exceptions are public servants, domestic workers and seafarers who will continue to have other avenues for recourse. The ECT may at a later date extend its services to these categories of employees.

As the ECT is designed to be an expeditious and affordable forum for the resolution of salary-related disputes, it will not deal with other claims such as unfair dismissal or harassment for which employees may turn to other avenues under the Employment Act or the civil courts.

The ECT will reside within the Singapore court system, not MOM, and will replace MOM's Labour Court

Reflecting the ECT's jurisdiction to deal with employees beyond the cover of the Employment Act, the ECT will be established as a tribunal under the Community Justice and Tribunals Division (CJTD) of the State Courts. The CJTD currently oversees the Small Claims Tribunals, Community Disputes Resolution Tribunals, and matters under the Protection from Harassment Act.

The ECT will replace the Labour Court, which has been administered by the MOM to deal with salary-related claims by employees under the Employment Act.

Mediation will be mandatory before the ECT hears a claim

Mediation will be mandatory before claims will be heard by the ECT, to encourage the parties to seek to resolve their differences amicably.  

The 3 approved mediation forums mentioned in the public consultation document are:

  • MOM's mediation service for employees covered under the Employment Act ("MOM EA mediation").
  • the Tripartite Mediation Framework under the Industrial Relations Act for employees who are union-members working in non-unionised companies ("TMF").
  • MOM's conciliation service under the Industrial Relations Act for unions and unionised companies ("MOM labour conciliation").

MOM may approve other mediation services for such pre-ECT mediation.

Agreements that are voluntarily reached after mediation may be registered and enforced as court orders.

Claims will be capped at S$20,000 or S$30,000 depending on the mediation forum used

Claims at ECT will be capped at S$20,000 where mediation goes through MOM EA mediation. 

If the dispute involves a union member or the unions and thus goes through mediation via TMF or the MOM labour conciliation process, the cap will be a higher S$30,000.

Time limits apply – claims must be brought within 12 months of the dispute arising, or within 6 months following termination of employment

To encourage claimants to file their salary claims expeditiously before the facts become more difficult to establish, claims must be filed within 12 months of the dispute arising if the employment relationship is intact. However, if the employment relationship has ended, the claim must be brought within 6 months of the end of the employment.

What this means for employers and employees

The ECT will make it easier for all levels of employees who have salary disputes to bring claims of up to S$20,000 – S$30,000 against employers for relatively quick adjudication. Employers too who have claims against employees, such as for unpaid salary in lieu of notice, will now have a forum for recovering such payments where a civil claim through the courts might be disproportionately costly. 

Employers and employees will need to go through mediation before going to the ECT. Mediation offers the opportunity for win-win resolution of disputes based on the interests of the parties beyond legal rights. Employers may wish to train their Legal and HR teams on the mediation process to make the most of the opportunities offered by mediation. 

ECT Consultation Feedback by 23 March 2016

The ECT Consultation is open for feedback from the public until 23 March 2016.