FAQs on Mediation and Arbitration

Referral of Disputes

Q: When should a dispute between an employer and a union with regard to employment, non-employment or terms and conditions of employment be referred to the IAC?
A: The dispute should be referred to IAC only if the parties have not been able to resolve the dispute firstly, after extensive discussion and negotiation between themselves and then, even with the assistance of the Ministry of Manpower to conciliate between the parties.

Q: When can an employee grievance be referred to IAC?
A: A union or/and employer can refer an employee grievance to IAC for determination where the grievance involves an alleged violation of the collective agreement and the collective agreement is still in force.

Q: What kinds of dispute may be filed with IAC?
A: Disputes of the following nature may be filed with IAC:

a)the union and employer may jointly submit a dispute on any matter e.g. any terms and conditions of employment arising out of the operation of the CA or outside the CA

b)either union or employer may alone refer any of the following for arbitration -

  • Dispute over annual wage adjustments, AWS, or bonus (under Section 50 (1) of the Employment Act)
  • Dispute over transfer of employment
  • Dispute on retrenchment benefit payable to executive or breach of his contract of employment
  • Continuation of a CA or award
  • Interpretation of a CA or award
  • Setting aside or varying any of the terms of a CA or award
  • Non-compliance with a CA or award or contravention of any provision of the IR Act
  • Appeal against the Referee’s decision where the dispute was first heard by a Referee

Mediation by Registrar

Q: What are the advantages of the parties resolving the dispute between them through mediation by the IAC Registrar, compared with having the dispute heard by the Court?
A: Negotiation gives both parties the opportunity to achieve a win-win outcome, which is particularly important given that the union-employer relationship is a long-term one. The parties will also save on the time and effort involved in preparing for and presenting their respective cases at a Court hearing. The parties sometimes do not welcome the publicity that comes with the hearing, which is normally conducted in open court. Negotiation between the parties at the mediated sessions, on the other hand, is conducted in private, and on a confidential and ‘without prejudice’ basis, unless otherwise requested by the parties.

Court Proceedings & Decision

Q: Who will hear and decide on a dispute filed with IAC?
A: The Court, comprising the President of IAC and a member each from the Employer Panel and Employee Panel selected by the employer and union respectively, will hear and determine disputes relating to terms and conditions of employment, annual wage adjustments and bonus, transfer of employment and retrenchment benefits payable to an executive or breach of his contract of employment. The President, sitting alone, will hear and determine disputes relating to continuation, interpretation, setting aside or varying a CA or award, non-compliance with a CA or award or contravention of the IR Act, appeal against a Referee’s decision, and dismissal of an employee allegedly due to industrial action.

Q: Who can represent the parties at the Court hearing?
A: The union may be represented by an officer of the union or by an industrial relations officer selected by the union. The employer may be represented by an employee or by an officer of the union to which the employer belongs. The parties are not allowed representation by a practising lawyer or paid agent except where the matter relates to contempt of court.

Q: What factors does the Court take into account in making its decision?
A: The guiding principle adopted is that the Court’s decision should be fair, and should take into account not only the interests of the disputing parties but also the interests of the community as a whole and Singapore’s economic condition. The specific factors taken into account depend on the nature of the dispute. For a dispute relating to annual wage adjustments and bonus, the Court also takes into consideration the recommendations made by the Minister for Manpower based on the National Wage Council guidelines. Where the dispute relates to re-employment of an eligible employee under the Retirement and Re-employment Act, the Court takes note of the tripartite guidelines relating to re-employment issued by the Minister.

Q: Can the Court’s decision be appealed against?
A: No. The decision of the Court is final and conclusive. It cannot be challenged, appealed against, reviewed or called in question in any court.

Q: Are there any penalties for not complying with the Court’s decision?
A: The breach or non-observance of any term of a Court award is an offence. A union or employer who is found guilty of such a breach by a Magistrate’s Court is liable for a fine of up to $5,000. The Court has powers to order compliance with an award which is proved to have been broken or not observed. The Court has the same power as the High Court to punish as contempt of court a failure to comply with an order of the Court. The penalties include a fine of up to $4,000 and imprisonment of up to one year.

Referee Decision

Q: Can a Referee’s decision be appealed against?
A: A party who is dissatisfied with the Referee’s decision may, within 14 days from the date of the decision, appeal against the decision by filing a Notice of Appeal with IAC and paying the requisite fee. If, after reviewing the written grounds of decision and the transcript of the Referee hearing, the party decides to proceed with the appeal, he has to submit a Petition of Appeal together with other prescribed documents within 21 days. The appeal is heard by the President of the Court, whose decision is final and conclusive.