When Mdm Low Kim Goh and Mdm Ng Choon Hoi were engaged in a salary dispute with their former employer, they did what most people would do after exhausting talks with their company supervisors; they brought up their case to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). It was there at MOM that both Mdm Low and Mdm Ng learned about the existence of the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), the entity which would ultimately assist them through their journey.
Mdm Low,73, joined her ex-cleaning company back in August 2016. After working there for more than a year, she recommended her friend, 60-year-old Mdm Ng, for a position in the company in October 2017. Under their employment contracts, both were informed of their working hours – 12-hours a day with 2-hours’ worth of rest breaks. The rest breaks were divided into a single 1.5-hour lunch break, and two 15-minute breaks. Throughout their tenure with the company, both were told to work during their two 15-minute breaks to complete their tasks. Thinking that they would be reimbursed for their time, both did so accordingly. They were however, not compensated. When they approached their supervisor regarding the discrepancy, they were denied any compensation for the difference. Re-enacting the conversation with her supervisor when they approached him regarding the difference, Mdm Ng quoted him saying in Mandarin: “If you want to report us for the difference, you are more than welcomed to. Nothing will come out of it.” The turning point for both Mdm Low and Ng came when they were tasked to complete additional duties on top of their already heavy workload. A spat ensued with their supervisor, and both were terminated the following day. Indignant, Mdm Low and Mdm Ng began their pursuit for compensation the same week they were let go.
Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management
After heading down to MOM’s office at Bendemeer, they were re-directed to TADM’s office located at Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability. Jointly set up by tripartite partners MOM, NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), TADM has been helping employees, employers and self-employed individuals manage employment and payment-related disputes amicably since April 2017. Once there, they were assigned a case officer, who analysed the details of their case and informed them of what they could or could not make claims for. As they were both NTUC union members, they benefited from NTUC’s expertise and close support throughout the entire process.
As there was no log of their working days or hours, Mdm Low and Mdm Ng had to, together with their case officer, manually tabulate the number of days that they were not compensated for the forfeited breaks. Once that was done, a voluntary mediation was initiated with the company late December 2018 requesting for payment of:
- One-week salary in-lieu of termination notice
- Remaining balance of Annual Leave
- Short payment of 30 minutes work in-lieu-of-break for the last 12-months
Their company, while agreeable to the reimbursement of the first two points, rejected their claims for the short payment of 30 minutes for the past 12-months. After a face-to-face session and several phone exchanges with no conciliation in sight, a Tripartite Mediation was lodged towards the end of February 2019. Even then, a resolution could not be reached. “We were looking at a settlement amount of $500 each, but the company was only willing to pay us $250 each,” Mdm Low explained. A last-ditch attempt to settle out of court was made in May 2019 during a Case Management Conference. With neither party willing to budge, a court hearing was convened at the Employment Claims Tribunal in July 2019.
The judge ruled in favour of Mdm Low and Mdm Ng, and they were both awarded $885.50 and $875.84 respectively. They were paid the week following the ruling. The entire process took them seven months. When asked if the process was difficult, they mentioned that other than making time to head down to TADM, the case officer made the entire procedure manageable. “At the end of the day, we knew we had a case and we just wanted to be paid what was rightfully ours,” said Mdm Low. Mdm Low has since retired and is now caring for her husband, while Mdm Ng has found employment in another company. Need advice for managing employment or payment-related disputes? Visit TADM’s website for more information.