A Review of Industrial Arbitration Court Cases in Singapore
Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Director, Legal Services, National Trades Union Congress , Singapore
Singapore has a unique tripartite system of industrial relations to resolve disputes in the workplace between employers and unions. The tripartite system involves a close but intricate relationship between the government (represented by Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of Singapore), the employers (represented by the Singapore National Employers' Federation (SNEF) which is a federation representing employers in Singapore) and the unions (represented by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) which is the only national trade union federation affiliated by almost all the trade unions in Singapore).
In the past 20 years prior to 2011, there were very few cases which were escalated to open court hearing in the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC). However, since 2011, there were a series of cases which became acrimonious and could not be conciliated when the dispute was brought to the MOM. As such, the cases had to be filed by virtue of the Industrial Relations Act (Chapter 136, Statutes of the Republic of Singapore) for hearing in the IAC. Despite attempts by the Registrar of the IAC to mediate these cases filed, the parties were unable to resolve and the cases were therefore heard in open court by a full panel of three IAC panel members presided by Justice Chan Seng Onn who is the appointed President of the IAC (he is also currently a serving High Court Judge in the Supreme Court of Singapore).
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