Currently, mediation is only mandatory for disputes over salary, such as those related to underpayment, overtime pay, pay in lieu of notice and maternity benefits. Other disputes are dealt with through voluntary mediation.
Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is now in talks with unions and employers to expand the mandatory mediation programme to non-salary related disputes, whether governed by contracts of employment or by the Employment Act. It is particularly keen for the programme to apply to disputes relating to the wrongful dismissal of professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) who are not covered by the Employment Act, manpower minister Lim Swee Say said at an industry event.
"This is because such disputes have the most impact on the affected PMEs," he said. "The tripartite partners will work closely to forge a consensus, hopefully in the not too distant future."
Once agreement is reached, mandatory mediation would be provided by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), Lim Swee Say said. TADM would be able to refer disputes where agreement could not be reached through mediation on to the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT).
Lim Swee Say was speaking at an event marking the six-month anniversary TADM and the ECT, which began hearing disputes in April. Previously, workers covered by the Employment Act were required to bring salary-related claims to the MOM, while PMEs not covered by the Employment Act were required to take their case to the civil courts.
Since April, 4,350 employees and 250 employers have filed salary-related claims with TADM, Lim Swee Say said. Of these, around 95% went on to mediation. Employees recovered their unpaid salaries in full in around 90% of the cases mediated by TADM, with business failure accounting for most of the cases in which the employee was unable to recover an unpaid salary in full.
TADM also provided career counselling, training, job placement, financial advice and emotional support to 170 employees since April, as well as advice on employment disputes regardless of whether they are covered by employment laws. TADM has also held voluntary mediation for about 100 cases which were not covered by law but which could be guided by contract or industry norms, with around 70% of those cases settling successfully.
At the same event, Lim Swee Say announced the launch of a new tripartite standard on grievance handling, setting out a number of steps and procedures that companies should take to manage workplace grievances more effectively. The standard commits companies to putting in place clear grievance handling procedures, and fully training their supervisors, HR and staff in those procedures. More than 220 employers, collectively employing around 245,000 employees, have already committed to the standard as early adopters, Lim Swee Say said.
The grievance handling tripartite standard is the third to be agreed so far between the government, employers and unions, following similar standards on the employment of term contract employees and flexible working arrangements. More tripartite standards are currently under discussion, covering topics such as recruitment practices, age-friendly workplace practices, contracting with self-employed persons and procuring services from freelancers, according to Lim Swee Say.
"The developments fall within the theme of updating Singapore's employment legislation amidst changes to a knowledge-based economy," said employment law expert Bryan Tan of Pinsent Masons MPillay, the Singapore joint venture partner of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "More measures are being introduced to protect employees outside the traditional classes of rank and file employees, and more self-help and alternative dispute resolution avenues are being created."