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.
In 2016, HealthServe's staff team grew by 3 individuals. Meet them below.
Joined 1 March 2016
Daniel was doing a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry when he applied to do a practicum with Healthserve, having heard much from friends about the work there. Since his time there for about half a year, he had learned much about the plight of the migrant workers and the system that they have come under. Feeling that he can make a positive impact on improving the situation of these workers, he decided to join Healthserve, when an opportunity arose just as he completed his studies.
Daniel is passionate about photography, especially people photography, having been honing his skills for the last 15 years. In his free time, he also enjoys watching a good movie, swimming or reading.
Nhaca Le Schulze
Joined 4 January 2016
Nhaca joined HealthServe as a volunteer in early September 2015 to help with HealthServe’s communications efforts. She enjoyed her time volunteering so much that when the opportunity arose for her to join HealthServe as a full time staff at the start of 2016, she readily accepted. Nhaca's studies at Georgetown University focused on economic development and poverty. She is passionate about social justice and her nonprofit career has taken her from the US throughout Asia and now to Singapore. Nhaca is thrilled to be a part of the HealthServe community.
Nhaca was born in a small village along the central coast of Vietnam and raised in an immigrant community just outside of Seattle. She moved to Singapore 3 years ago and lives with her husband and cat, Nugget. She's loves animals and is passionate about vegetarian cooking and visual arts.
Joined 1 March 2016
Reuben was acquainted with Healthserve through an event called "Just a Handful of Coins" (JAHOC) about three years ago and it left an indelible impression on him. Three years later, at the start of 2016, he decided to join Healthserve as a volunteer to understand its work and vision. During the course of his short volunteer stint, he gained a deeper insight into Healthserve's multi-faceted and holistic approach in helping migrant workers, and was eventually given the opportunity to join Healthserve as a full-time staff of which he readily accepted.
Reuben studied Biomedical Engineering in Ngee Ann Polytechnic and is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Social Work. He hopes to emanate comfort and joy to the oppressed migrant workers, and seeks to understand the cultural manifestations of behavior among them so as to serve them better.
In his free time, Reuben cycles and explores the sunny island's park connector network and enjoys playing a good game of ultimate frisbee with his ex-colleagues. He is born and bred in Singapore yet takes a keen interest in his 'middle kingdom' roots.