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    Apr 25, 2014

    Tribunal to help resolve wage issues in the works

    DISGRUNTLED professionals can look forward to settling pay disputes with less fuss.

    The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is proposing to set up a Small Claims Employment Tribunal to handle disputes over salaries and employment contracts.

    When implemented, workers will be able to lodge claims - up to a certain limit - for salary-related matters and statutory issues provided for in the Employment Act.

    The proposed tribunal will also benefit professionals such as managers earning above $4,500, who are not covered by the Employment Act.

    Currently, if they face any employment dispute, they can settle it only through the civil courts, which can be time-consuming and costly.

    Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday that the tribunal would provide "all workers an expeditious and affordable dispute-resolution mechanism for their employment disputes".

    He said that unions would complement the move and continue to help and advise workers.

    In addition, all firms will have to provide employment contracts with key terms, such as salary and job scope, in written form to prevent misunderstandings and disputes, Mr Tan said. This will be made compulsory within the next two years.

    Meanwhile, MOM will consult and engage various stakeholders on the tribunal proposal.

    The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) welcomed the idea.

    NTUC president Diana Chia said: "It covers quite a large majority of employees who are not covered under the Employment Act and with this it means that more people can then have their grievances handled in a more economical way."

    Potentially, the tribunal can help 2.1 million Singaporeans and permanent residents.

    "If we have a tribunal, it does not mean success is guaranteed, but at least there's a forum for those seeking help with employment disputes," said lawyer Louis Lim.

    Many employees facing disputes approach lawyers. "But they start to feel the worthlessness of pursuing the case. A majority of them will drop the case because it gets too costly," said Mr Lim.

    Lawyer Chia Boon Teck said: "This is a very common inquiry that we receive on a day-to-day basis. Typically, they (employees) are accused of having done something wrong and are told to leave with outstanding salary issues. We usually advise the employee to try to resolve the dispute with the employer amicably as the legal costs would far outweigh the disputed claim."

    Employers may also benefit from the tribunal. Stephen Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: "For companies, you don't really want a dispute to drag on and cause morale issues. Companies would also welcome a cost-effective and fast way to settle."

    However, Singapore Insurance Employees' Union general secretary Luke Hee said that it is still more "effective and cost-efficient" for members to seek help from unions for disputes rather than to bring them up to the tribunal.

    Mr Hee said: "As a union, we know the industry, we know how things work. We can convene a meeting, thrash it out and the matter can be resolved. It doesn't have to escalate. Even if there is no cost involved in the tribunal, you need time to prepare a case. All this can translate into costs."