All You Need to Know About the Employment Claims Tribunals
On 1 April 2017, the State Courts launched the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) to take over the function of resolving salary-disputes from the Labour Court at the Ministry of Manpower. Disputes pertaining to transfer of employment under section 18A of the Employment Act, claims for workmen’s compensation and claims for non-salary related disputes will continue to be heard at the Labour Court. The ECT thus provides a similar platform to the Small Claims Tribunals where efficiency and low-cost in resolving disputes are the main objectives.
This article explores:
- The jurisdiction of the ECT;
- Types of claims that fall outside the jurisdiction of the ECT;
- Powers of the ECT;
- Implications for businesses; and
- Implications for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs).
Jurisdiction of the ECT
The ECT is established under the Employment Claims Act 2016 (ECA). According to the ECA, the ECT is empowered to hear all claims listed in the Second Schedule of the ECA pertaining to the Employment Act, the Retirement and Re-employment Act, and the Child Development Co-Savings Act.
Maximum Limit of the Claim
The maximum limit of the claim cannot exceed $20,000 at the ECT. However, the maximum amount is increased to $30,000 if the employee attends the mediation session conducted by the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), or if the dispute has undergone mediation assisted by the trade unions.
If your claim exceeds the maximum limit stated above and if you still wish for your case to be heard at the ECT, you must abandon the excess amount. For example, if your claim is $50,000 and the maximum applicable limit is $30,000, you must agree to abandon the excess amount of $20,000 for the ECT to hear your claims. The abandoned excess amount is not claimable in any tribunal or court.
If you do not wish to abandon the excess amount, you may wish to consider seeking legal advice from our employment lawyers to pursue your claim in the civil courts.
Types of Claims that Can be Brought to the ECT
The ECT can hear both statutory and contractual salary-related claims. Statutory salary-related claims are claims such as unpaid salaries, overtime pay and maternity benefits. These claims are backed by statutes, e.g. Employment Act, Retirement and Re-employment Act, or the Child Development Co-Savings Act.
For contractual salary-related claims, the ECT can hear the following types of claims:
- Annual wage supplement
- Bonus payment
- Deduction from salary
- Employment assistance payment
- Incentive payment
- Medical benefit
- Overtime payment
- Pay for extra work
- Pay for paid leave
- Pay for work on public holiday
- Pay for work on rest day
- Payment in lieu of unconsumed leave
- Reimbursement for expenses incurred while carrying out official duties
- Salary in lieu of notice of termination
- Termination benefit (including retrenchment benefit or retirement benefit)
Do note that salary-related claims need to be mediated before they can be heard at the ECT.
Wrongful dismissal claims
The ECT also hears claims for wrongful dismissal from 1 April 2019 onwards. Previously, employees had to bring such claims to the Ministry of Manpower.
A full list of claims that can be brought to the ECT may be found in the First and Second Schedules of the ECA.
Types of Claims that Cannot be Brought to the ECT
Examples of claims that cannot be brought to the ECT include those involving restraint of trade clauses (e.g. non-solicitation clauses and other non-competition clauses). These are more complicated claims and for such claims, you should file them in either the Labour Court or the Civil Courts.
Employees who are public servants, domestic workers and seafarers cannot bring their contractual salary-related claims to the ECT. The reason for this is because there are other avenues to resolve their claims. Public servants can resolve their disputes through the Public Service’s internal processes. Domestic workers can still resolve their disputes through Ministry of Manpower or their respective employment agencies. As for seafarers, they can resolve their disputes through the Merchant Shipping (Maritime Labour Convention) Act 2014.
However, it is noted that public servants, domestic workers and seafarers can still bring limited statutory salary-related claims such as claims for employment assistance payments and maternity benefits to the ECT.
How to File the Claim
The filing of the claim can be done online via the State Courts website’s Community Justice and Tribunals System (CJTS). The costs of filing the claim are:
- $30 if you are claiming $10,000 or less
- $60 if your claim exceeds $10,000
A mediation session will be arranged at the TADM within 4 weeks.
Do note that if you have a claim against your employer and you are currently employed by the employer, you are to file your claim within 1 year after the dispute has arisen. If you have left the employment of your employer, you are to file your claim within 6 months of your last day of work.
After filing your claim, you will also need to bring it to the attention of the respondent. You are required to serve on the respondent documents relating to the claim. This can be done by hand (i.e. delivering the documents to the respondent yourself), registered post or other means, such as through fax or email.
Proceedings and Orders
After filing your claim, a date and time will be scheduled for the ECT to hear your claim. You are required to present your own case during the proceedings before the tribunal.
Lawyers are not permitted to represent any party during ECT proceedings. In addition, ECT proceedings are conducted in private, so media personnel and members of the public are not allowed to be present.
Do note that the ECT may order the parties to go for mediation at any stage of the proceedings. If a party fails to do so, they may be guilty of contempt of court and liable to a fine of up to S$200,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 12 months.
After hearing the dispute, for a salary-related claim, the ECT may make the following orders:
- Requiring one party to pay money to the other.
- Dismissing the entire claim or any part of the claim.
For a wrongful dismissal claim, the following orders may be made:
- Require an employer to reinstate the employee and pay him/her the loss of wages from the date of dismissal to the date of reinstatement.
- Require an employer to pay compensation to the employee.
- Dismiss the claim.
In either case (salary-related or wrongful dismissal), the ECT may also require a party to pay costs to another party.
The ECT will consider the following when choosing the appropriate order(s) to make:
- The nature of the claim – does it fall within the jurisdiction of the ECT or the categories specified in the ECA?
- The monetary value of the claim – does the claim amount fall within the claim limits of the ECA?
- Is the claim substantiated by the supported documents?
- Have the parties made efforts to settle the claim beforehand?
Once the ECT makes an order, the order may be enforced in the same way as a District Court order. We have an article that covers the enforcement of court judgments in Singapore in more detail.
If you are dissatisfied with the order of the ECT, you may appeal to the High Court but only if the District Court grants leave to appeal on a point of law. Alternatively, you may also appeal to the High Court on the basis that the ECT had made orders for a matter that is outside the ECT’s jurisdiction.
In the meantime, the execution of the ECT’s order is not stayed unless the District Court or the High Court gives its approval for a stay of execution.
Implications of the ECT on Businesses and PMEs
Employers can now file contractual and statutory salary-related claims relating to salary in lieu of notice of termination to the ECT.
Previously, PMEs earning a basic monthly salary exceeding $4,500 could not bring their claims to the TADM. After the establishment of the ECT, all PMEs who are union members in non-unionised companies may file a claim. Rank-and-file union members in non-unionised companies may also file a claim.
If your claims falls outside the jurisdiction of the ECT, you can contact our employment lawyers on your next course of action.
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