The case of Arokiasamy Joseph v Singapore Airlines Staff  1 SLR 473 deals with the jurisdictional requirements of the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC).
Arokiasamy was an employee of Singapore Airlines (SIA) who occupied various positions in the Singapore Airlines Staff Union during his employment. From 1996 onwards, he resigned from these positions, retaining his ordinary union membership.
When Arokiasamy was charged with an offence and remanded in 1997, SIA terminated his employment on the grounds that he had been absent from work without leave. Arokiasamy took steps to be reinstated at SIA, but no agreement was reached between the parties. Therefore, Arokiasamy wished to proceed against SIA under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act with the help of the union before the IAC.
The union responded that it was unable to help Arokiasamy. He then applied for a declaration and an injunction to compel the union to refer the dispute to the IAC. He claimed that the union had an obligation to bring his case before the IAC under its constitution and that it had no discretion to decline his request.
In dismissing the application, the court held that the union was not bound to accede to a member's request to take up his or her case against SIA. In any event, Arokiasamy had failed to show to the union how his case came under the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act. He also failed to show that his case fulfilled the jurisdictional requirements relating to the IAC and thus was not able to prove his case was one fit for referral.
The jurisdictional requirements relating to the IAC are set out in Section 31 of the Industrial Relations Act. The requirements include where (i) all the parties have agreed that the trade dispute be submitted to the IAC, or (ii) a trade union, or employer, who is a party to a trade dispute makes a request to the Registrar under Section 50(1) of the Employment Act that the trade dispute be submitted to arbitration. (Section 50(1) of the Employment Act deals with negotiations on collective agreements relating to wages and related payments).
'Trade dispute' is defined widely in the Industrial Relations Act, as a dispute (including 'threatened, impending or probable' dispute) concerning industrial matters, pertaining to the relations between employers and employees which are connected with the:
- terms of employment; or
- conditions of work of any person.
Despite this wide definition, the employee must first satisfy the jurisdiction requirements pertaining to the IAC under Section 31.
On the facts of this particular case, Arokiasamy's situation did not come under any of the provisions of Section 31. Specifically, it would be pointless for the union to make a referral unless the employers also agreed, as all parties must agree that the trade dispute be submitted to the IAC.
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