Singapore sees fewer employment claims, appeals filed in 2020 with sharp fall in foreign worker claims

Janice Heng
Published Fri, Jul 9, 2021 · 12:00 PM

FEWER employment claims and appeals were lodged with the authorities in 2020, with a sharp fall in the incidence of claims by foreign workers more than making up for a rise in claims by local workers, said the latest Employment Standards Report on Friday.

For every 1,000 employees, there were 2.59 employment claims and appeals lodged with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), down from 3.04 in 2019.

For foreign employees, the incidence was 3.61 per 1,000, down sharply from 5.13 in 2019. MOM said this fall was due largely to moves to tackle non-payment of salaries upstream. 

For local employees, the incidence rose to 2.17 per 1,000 in 2020, from 2.00 in 2019.

In total, 8,697 claims and appeals were lodged in 2020, with about three-fifths by local employees, and the rest by foreign employees.

The vast majority were either salary claims - 7,226 cases - or wrongful-dismissal claims, with 1,319 such cases. The remaining 152 cases were dismissal appeals lodged under the Retirement and Re-employment Act and the Industrial Relations Act, and cases where TADM offered voluntary mediation for issues not covered by employment legislation.


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For salary claims, the overall incidence fell to 2.15 per 1,000 employees, from 2.68 in 2019.

But for local employees, the incidence rose to 1.61, up from 1.53 previously. The incidence was higher in industries such as accommodation and food services activities; information and communications; and construction, "some of which were severely impacted by the circuit breaker and movement restrictions in 2020", said MOM.

Among foreign employees, the incidence of salary claims fell to 3.47, down from 4.98 before. Industries with the highest incidence were arts, entertainment and recreation; accommodation and food services activities; and construction.

An employee may lodge a salary claim for multiple items. Amid the pandemic, there were falls in the share of foreign employee claims made for overtime pay - featuring in 44 per cent of claims, down from 67 per cent in 2019. Claims for salary for work done on rest days and public holidays featured in 28 per cent of claims, down from 46 per cent.

Of all salary claims lodged in 2020, 92 per cent of employees fully recovered the salaries due to them, based on the amount agreed between parties involved in the dispute or the amount ordered by the Employment Claims Tribunals. The total recovered sum was about S$15 million.

Another 5 per cent recovered salaries in part, with most such cases involving employers who could not make full payment due to financial difficulties. MOM and TADM helped the workers recover part of the arrears through means such as negotiating for settlement payments from security bond insurers or main contractors, or helping lower-wage employees secure financial assistance from the Short-Term Relief Fund or Migrant Workers' Assistance Fund.

The rest, who did not recover any salaries, were mainly higher-income earners who did not qualify for financial relief from those funds.

Less than 1 per cent of salary claims involved "wilful employers who refused to make full payment of the salary arrears despite having the means to do so", said MOM. Such employers are investigated and may be prosecuted.

In 2020, MOM took several moves to reduce downstream employment disputes by detecting salary issues early. In March, it introduced a requirement for employers with 10 or more employees to notify MOM on cost-saving measures that would affect employees' salaries.

Since April 2020, employers with workers staying in dormitories have had to pay salaries electronically, and since May 2020, construction-sector employers must submit monthly declarations on the status of salary payment to their foreign employees.

In June, MOM introduced a feature on its FWMOMCare mobile application, which lets migrant workers quickly report any salary, bank account and remittance issues.

From June till December, TADM proactively engaged employers and facilitated salary resolution for about 7,000 migrant workers, without requiring these workers to lodge salary claims first.

Friday's report also highlighted a new online dispute resolution platform introduced in February 2020, allowing for an alternative to physical mediation during the pandemic.

Groundwork for this system had begun in 2018. By 2023, the system will become "a comprehensive online platform to fully handle employment disputes covering advisory, lodgement, mediation and settlement", integrated with the Employment Claims Tribunals' claims filing system.

READ MORE: Wrongful dismissal claims down in second half of 2020, after Q2 spike: MOM


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