Only union members covered by mediation panel? The “wayang” continues?

We refer to the article “Key areas to tackle in protecting workers’ rights” (Straits Times, May 10).

“Workers have much to cheer about”?

It states that “Workers have much to cheer about of late and not just because of the annual Labour Day celebrations.

Their cause for cheer are two back-to-back announcements by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) which, when implemented, will be to their benefit.

The first is a proposal to set up a labour tribunal to help those caught in pay disputes with their employers. The tribunal will open its doors to all local employees, regardless of how much they earn.

The second concerns a mediation panel that now helps professionals, executives and managers (PMEs) who are union members resolve problems with their bosses. The MOM said the scope of the panel could be expanded to include rank-and-file workers, as well as those who earn more than the current $4,500 monthly salary cap.

Between the two, the impact of the tribunal will be more wide-ranging as it stands to benefit all 2.1 million local workers. By contrast, the mediation panel will cover only the 600,000 or so local workers who are union members, should its coverage be expanded.

A labour tribunal is an independent statutory body given powers under the law to hear and rule on employment disputes. It is found in places like Australia, Britain and Hong Kong.”

Sad state of protecting workers’ rights?

– Instead of  “workers have much to cheer” – workers should arguably be aghast at the continuing sad state of affairs in regards to the protection of workers’ rights in Singapore.

Independent labour tribunal?

The independent statutory bodies protecting workers’ rights in Australia, Britain and Hong Kong have been in existence for decades. And we are now just starting to talk about labour tribunals!

Only cover some workers?

Moreover, unlike other countries which cover practically all workers on all types of disputes – why is it that ” the mediation panel will cover only the 600,000 or so local workers who are union members” – shouldn’t its coverage be expanded?

What about the other more than a million workers who are not union members?

Only cover certain disputes?

Also, why is it that only certain types of disputes can be brought up?

In this regard, I agree with the writer of the article, Mr Toh Yong Chuan who wrote “First, it should aim to be inclusive, rather than exclusive, which means that it should try to cover more issues, rather than fewer”.

In my view, he hit it right on the nail, when he said “There are at least two other types of work-related disputes that should also be given a hearing. The first type is discrimination complaints, including that of employers preferring foreigners over locals, and disputes related to re-hiring of older workers”.

Why can’t it be like other countries whereby practically everyone can bring up almost all types of disputes.

Only heard 13 cases in 3 years?

In this connection, the remarks “This brings into question the curious case of the mediation panel to help PME union members.

Set up by the MOM, NTUC and Singapore National Employers Federation, the panel has handled a paltry 13 cases since it was set up in 2011, which the MOM said were mostly resolved”, may be instructive (in addition to being “curious”).

This “wayang” of our tripartite system must change – or else Singaporean workers may continue to be hit by the double whammy of the “sad” statistics and the lacking in the process to address disputes.

Claims limit?

Perhaps another example of the continuing “wayang” is that “Apart from issues, there is also the matter of the claims limit, and the MOM has made it plain that there will be one. That is unlike the situation in Hong Kong, where the labour tribunal does not limit the claim amount.”

“Sad” statistics?

By the “sad” statistics, we are referring to the 260,000 and 470,000 jobs created for locals and foreigners respectively, against the 450,000 new citizens and PRs granted from 2007 to 2013.

In summary, the “wayang” of who can bring what types of disputes for what amount looks likely to continue “as the MOM discusses its ideas behind closed doors with unions and employers over the next few months”!

In this regard, the remarks “So far, the MOM has played coy and would not commit to what form the tribunal would take or when it would be rolled out, buying time for closed-door talks”, may be “revealing”.


We love the writer’s remarks “Second, the tribunal has to be transparent about its work … the MOM does not give any details on the number of cases it handles, what the cases were about or the outcome of the complaint … A tribunal that is shrouded in secrecy risks undermining public confidence in its decisions”!

And if We may add – the same goes for the “anti-discrimination watchdog TAFEP” too.

Press Freedom ranking?

The 150th Press Freedom ranking of our media may have risen a few notches in our minds – with articles like this one. We salute you – Mr Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent.

By the way – this is the remark which We loved most – “While unionists lined up to support the tribunal after MOM broached the idea. I saw worried looks on their faces. If all workers can bring their disputes to the tribunal, why would they join unions?”


SY Lee and Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.