Workplace disputes to be tackled swiftly under new initiative

Singapore government launches new standard on grievance handling for employers

The Singapore government is working to strengthen its dispute resolution mechanisms, with a promise to do more to tackle the issue of frequent miscommunication attributed to the multicultural labour market.

The Tripartite Standard on Grievance Handling, launched on 20 October, is the latest in a series of attempts to promote a “holistic” approach to managing disputes, manpower minister Lim Swee Say announced at the launch ceremony.

Jointly developed by the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) in Singapore, it rolls out a set of “verifiable and actionable employment practices”.

The standard requires organisations to put in place, and communicate to employees, a grievance handling procedure that states clearly the appropriate authority in the company to hear an appeal, and the timeframe within which action should be taken.

It also gives the employee the right to take unresolved grievance to the next level and, most importantly, requires companies to commit to training their supervisors, HR representatives and staff to ensure grievances can be resolved effectively and amicably, said the minister.

The initiative has been well received, with 220 companies already signed up for the standard – Raffles Hotel Singapore among them. Its company director of talent and culture, Jennifer Tan, told People Management it has put in place a process to manage any colleague concerns, with all employees briefed on the initiative when they join the company.

It has an “open-door policy in place” and a strong partnership with the employee union and “colleagues are aware of how to raise their concerns”. The management too is guided on how to respond to colleagues, ensuring “clarity throughout the process,” Tan said. The company has a strict code of ethics and makes sure it “walks the talk.” Raffles employees have regular one-to-one sessions with their manager and general manager to raise any concerns which need resolving, she added.

Tripartite partner and NTUC president Mary Liew said the government initiative was an attempt to build an “inclusive and harmonious” workplace.

Currently, the Employment Act covers local and foreign employees working under a contract of service with an employer. But it does not cover managers or executives with a monthly basic salary of more than SGD4,500 (US$3,300), domestic workers, seafarers, statutory board employees or civil servants.

With PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) in mind, the government launched the Tripartite Alliance on Dispute Management (TADM) and the Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT) in April 2017 to provide help in a wider range of disputes – beyond those which employment law covers. It provides advice on all employment disputes, whether or not they are covered by employment law.

The TADM provides advice on salary and non-salary disputes, in-employment and end-of-employment disputes. So far, most cases are related to termination of work and performance appraisals. Between its launch in April and September this year, 4,350 employees and 250 employers filed salary-related claims, according to ministry data.

Building on its strength, the manpower ministry is hoping to widen TADM and ECT’s scope. Minister Lim said tripartite partners were discussing the possibility of including “mandatory mediation and resolution of non-salary-related disputes as the next step” – whether they are covered by employment law or under contracts.

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