Minister addresses concerns about Employment Claims Tribunal Bill
The new Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) Bill was passed in Parliament yesterday.
While Members of Parliament lauded the Bill (see above), some voiced concerns to Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, who responded.
Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) felt that foreign domestic workers as a group needed attention the most.
He said: "Domestic workers are among the most vulnerable workers in Singapore due to the power their employers have over them...
"If they are not covered from the start, requiring them to approach MOM (Ministry of Manpower) would perpetuate all the downsides of the current dispute settlement mechanisms that ECT is trying to resolve."
Mr Faisal proposed that MOM indicate the timeline for when domestic workers will be included in the ECT.
Mr Lim said it already has separate mechanisms in place for domestic workers, but MOM will look at adding them to the ECT in the future.
Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) was concerned with the time frame of the mediation process.
He said: "I would like to propose that the first mediation session be held at least 14 days after it is referred to the approved mediator.
"The Bill currently does not stipulate a time frame as a guideline for mediation cases to be resolved, which I believe, can open a loophole for exploitation."
Mr Lim said the first session of mediation will be made within 14 days.
Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok GRC) said that as a lawyer with a practice involving employment disputes, he was concerned that in certain situations, there may be an "inequality of arms between an employer and employee before the Tribunal", especially when the employer is represented by a legally-trained employee.
He felt that a possible way to address such cases is to allow the Tribunal to appoint an assessor on an ad hoc basis, much like when a District Judge deems it fit to call upon "a person of skill and experience in the matter to act as an assessor".
Mr Murali also highlighted a disadvantage to an employee because of the need of compulsory mediation imposed by the Bill.
He gave an example of an unsuccessfully mediated dispute coming before the Tribunal, but before the claim is heard, the employer withholds salary, giving rise to a second dispute.
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) also expressed his concern for "low-wage elderly workers who have received little formal education and have a poor command of English".
This group of vulnerable individuals should also be protected at the ECT, he said.
Mr Ng said: "In such cases, there is usually a significant power differential between employees and employers, even if interpreters are provided.
"Allowing them representation or assistance by solicitors, agents or McKenzie friends (people who assist a litigant in person in court) will ensure fair outcomes are achieved."
On legal representation, Mr Lim said having a lawyer would work against the worker, putting him at a disadvantage as he would not be able to afford one.
And should the case become complex, then it should be argued in civil court, he said.