Beyond dispute resolution: Cooking up a new career
Supporting employees to rebuild careers and meet personal obligations.
- Employers should consider other options, such as re-deploying the employee, before deciding to terminate the employment relationship.
- Beyond assisting employers and employees to resolve their disputes, TADM can also support employees to rebuild their careers and meet personal obligations.
Boon Huat looked at the bill again. $103.58 for utilities due by the end of next week. This was on top of the $6000 for his mother’s hospital bills. She was due to be discharged soon, and he wondered how he would take care of her while working and trying to find a new job.
It had been a month since his boss Sim Leng gathered the staff for a special announcement. Business was poor, the restaurant had been losing money for the past three months, and it was too difficult to keep things going as they were. The final blow came when Sim Leng suggested that they should all start looking for new jobs. Meanwhile the staff had to continue with their jobs till the end of the month. Sim Leng promised to pay them their salaries soon.
None of the staff received their salaries. Fortunately, a colleague’s cousin worked in the Ministry of Manpower and advised them to seek help from the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). Boon Huat made his way to TADM’s office the next day.
How TADM helped
At TADM, Boon Huat was advised to undergo mediation. The officer explained that mediation was probably the best option to resolve the dispute amicably, without resorting to expensive and long-drawn lawsuits. During mediation, both parties will be given the chance to share their views and come to a mutual agreement.
Two weeks later, Boon Huat received a call from TADM. He had almost given up on getting his money back, and was seriously considering taking on a second job to make ends meet. He immediately agreed, when the officer asked whether he could come for mediation.
It was the first time that Sim Leng admitted to not paying the staff their salaries. Business had been going downhill ever since the new fast food restaurant and café were set up in the neighbourhood. Several suppliers had threatened to sue him, and he had been busy trying to borrow money from friends and family to repay his creditors. Even after selling off the equipment and other assets, he still did not have enough to pay the staff.
The TADM officer listened patiently to Sim Leng, and explained that while the restaurant was in financial difficulties, he was still obligated to pay the staff their salaries. The TADM officer reminded Sim Leng that this was not just a legal obligation, but also a moral one. Many of the staff, including Boon Huat, relied on income from their jobs to support their families.
To Boon Huat’s surprise, Sim Leng agreed with the TADM officer. However, Sim Leng insisted that he could not afford to repay the staff, and brought along invoices and hard copies of emails from suppliers to prove the extent of his debts. He even offered to show the TADM officer his savings passbook.
The TADM officer then turned to Boon Huat to ask for his views. Before he could speak, Sim Leng interjected to ask if he could repay part of the sum instead. Boon Huat hesitated. Getting some payment was better than none, and he did have urgent need for the money.
He agreed to accept Sim Leng’s offer to repay $2250, or three-quarters of the amount owed.
The TADM officer also informed Boon Huat that TADM will continue to engage Sim Leng to help him rectify his employment practices so that other workers will not be faced with the same situation.
While Boon Huat was relieved that the entire episode was coming to an end, he was now presented with a new problem. Should he use the $2250 for his utilities first, or save that for his mother’s hospital bills?
As Boon Huat prepared to leave, the TADM officer asked if there was anything else he could help him with. Boon Huat soon found himself describing his current difficulties to the officer, even though he knew that many of his problems were beyond TADM’s scope.
The officer listened attentively and asked Boon Huat if he would like to consider applying for financial assistance. Boon Huat had no idea that TADM provided financial assistance, in addition to helping employees with their employment disputes. The officer explained that the financial assistance schemes were not directly administered by TADM, but he could help to refer Boon Huat to the relevant agencies.
"While our focus is always to help the parties resolve their disputes, we realise that some may require more help to move on. This is why we also provide other forms of support, such as helping to arrange for financial assistance.” - Mediation officer, TADM
With TADM’s help, Boon Huat eventually received financial assistance from the U Care Centre run by the National Trades Union Congress. Whenever he recounted this episode, Boon Huat would always highlight this as the turning point. After settling the most urgent expenses, Boon Huat was able to focus on finding a new job and taking care of his mother. With his experience, he soon found a new job in a Chinese restaurant, and was relieved that he could finally put all his problems behind him.
"Like any other employee, all I wanted was to do my job and get what was due to me at the end of the month. Fortunately, I had help from TADM, or I don’t think I would have been able to get anything from my boss. TADM even helped me to get financial assistance. Thank you for listening and advising me every step of the way." - Boon Huat, 54, cook