MOM proposes Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) to replace Labour Court

MOM proposes Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) to replace Labour Court
By Ronald JJ Wong

The current Labour Court under the Employment Act only covers workers (including migrant workers) who earn less than $4,500 per month regarding their salary disputes. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is proposing to establish a new ECT to replace the Labour Court.

MOM intends to expand the scope of matters which will be heard by the ECT to include all employees (except public servants, domestic workers and seafarers for the time being), including those who earn more than $4,500 per month. The detailed proposal can be found here. The public has until 23 March 2016 to give feedback.

The highlights of the proposal are:

  • the ECT will be a tribunal under the State Court, like the Small Claims Tribunal;
  • the disputes covered are employment salary disputes including those involving rights under the Employment Act and also those rights not under the Act but under their employment contracts. This is significant because presently, the latter are subject to civil court proceedings, which can be expensive to pursue. However, there will be a jurisdictional limit;
  • the jurisdictional limit will be claims of up to $20,000. There will be a higher limit of $30,000 for claimants who go through the Tripartite Mediation Framework (applicable for union members) or MOM conciliation prescribed under the Industrial Relations Act;
  • disputes concerning issues related to other workplace grievances (e.g. unfair dismissal and
  • discrimination) will not be covered;
  • mediation will be made mandatory for disputes at the start of the process;
  • time limit for lodging claim in the ECT will be 1 year from the date on which claim arises.

While this proposal is significant mainly for expanding the scope of potential matters to those involving Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) who earn more than the current limit of $4,500, the ECT is significant also for migrant workers who may earn less than that because it also serves them. Some suggestions which HealthServe has proposed to the MOM on the proposed ECT based on issues which migrant workers have faced previously regarding their Labour Court cases are:

  • Process of Lodging Claims: (1) online submission of claims should be permitted to save time and costs for the workers, and the online portal could be made available in languages of the main worker groups; (2) secure phone line to allow workers to safely make claims; (3) allow the filing of claims at a location designated by MOM, such as Sunday satellite reporting counters.
  • Claim Lodgment Fee: the lodgement fee which a worker will have to pay as regards his ECT claim should be adjusted to take into consideration his financial means.
  • Representation during Proceedings: solicitors, agents or McKenzie friends (e.g. nominated VWO/NGO representatives) should be allowed to attend the ECT proceedings and represent or accompany the worker. This is because limitations in knowledge (on legal rights or issues) or language limitations may impede the proceedings from progressing smoothly and fairly for the parties, especially for the worker.
  • Consolidated Claims: employees should be allowed to lodge a consolidated claim against, and have a consolidated set of ECT proceedings in respect of, a common employer if their claims are similar. This would facilitate expediency of proceedings and provision of relevant evidence.
  • Immigration Status: unemployed foreign workers with ECT claims should be allowed to have a clear, definite and time-bound immigration status.
  • Enforcement of Orders: establishing Government-linked channels for enforcement of ECT orders.  

The proposed ECT is to be lauded and welcomed. It is hoped that its procedures and processes will be calibrated to ensure fair and expeditious resolution of employment disputes.