Local flavours, higher necklines and longer shorts: Hooters adapts to Asian tastes

SINGAPORE: US restaurant chain Hooters is aiming for a bigger share of the food and beverage market in Asia and to do so, it is willing to adapt to the tastes and demands of the region.

Led by Bangkok-based franchisee Destination Group, the ambitious expansion plan will see more than 30 new Hooters restaurants across Asia over the next few years. This year, it has unveiled two outlets in Singapore and one in Jakarta. This adds to the four restaurants in Thailand and one in Hong Kong, which opened in 2015.

According to Mr Neil Bailey, the president of Hooters Asia, the company will remain on an “aggressive” expansion path, given the encouraging results thus far. The new restaurants in Singapore, which opened in the first quarter of 2017, have seen good takings, with its 100-seater outlet at Marina Bay exceeding expectations.

Hooters – known for its attractive female staff who wear the uniform of tight white tank tops and skimpy orange shorts while serving chicken wings and drinks – made its foray into Asia in 1996 when another franchisee set up the first Hooters restaurant in Singapore.

The outlet, which remains in Clarke Quay, underwent a revamp last year to celebrate its 20th anniversary and is the only outlet in Singapore that does not come under Destination Group.

The outlet at Fusionopolis opened for business in March. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

With skimpily clad waitresses being a core part of the restaurant chain’s image, the expansion of Hooters in largely traditional Asia faces some hurdles. To garner a bigger slice of the burgeoning Asian market, Mr Bailey told Channel NewsAsia that the American diner is willing to make adjustments.

“We are still Hooters but we recognise that if we want to be a part of the community, we have to adapt to be embraced. So, as opposed to the attitude of ‘We are here and get used to it’, we say ‘We’d like to be here. Is this acceptable?’”

At its newly unveiled outlet in Jakarta, for instance, there have been minor modifications. While it largely mimics most of the chain’s other 420 restaurants in the US and worldwide, Mr Bailey describes it as having a “family restaurant experience”.

Apart from a halal menu that offers kids’ meals and local flavours such as sambal sauce, the outlet is fitted with high chairs, booster seats and a tinted glass window that blocks the view of the bar from the main street. Uniforms of its waitresses, otherwise known as Hooters Girls, will have higher necklines, longer skirts with shorts underneath and thicker stockings.

“We want to be culturally respectful,” said Mr Bailey, adding that the management team reached out to local officials and community leaders before the outlet in Kemang opened for business.

“We sat down with members of the local governing boards and advisers of a mosque nearby. We showed them our website and said: ‘This is who we are. We know this is not acceptable so what would be acceptable?’ They gave us some suggestions and we asked for some time to work on them.”

Mr Neil Bailey, president of Hooters Asia, is leading the American restaurant chain’s ambitious expansion plan across Asia. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

For now, the new uniforms remain in the works and will be rolled out in due course.

“We are still talking and engaging with the local community. In fact, when we opened the outlet, the senior community leaders came and we had dinner together,” added Mr Bailey, who emphasised that adapting to distinct conditions of each market is a critical ingredient for success.

“Hooters of America was worried (that modifications would dilute the brand) but we didn’t have to take long to convince them. You can’t just come in with the mindset of ‘I’m here now so accept it’. It’s about adapting to your environment and knowing that you are the guest. When you recognise that, they will welcome you like any new neighbour.”

With the successful opening in Indonesia, Hooters is confident of replicating this in neighbouring market Malaysia, where it has received interest from prospective landlords.

“Since we opened in Jakarta, landlords in Kuala Lumpur have reached out to us now that we have a good business model that we can present in a respectful way,” said Mr Bailey. “We think we can be ready by early next year.”

The restaurant in Kemang, Jakarta, opened for business on Mar 24. (Photo: Hooters Asia)

Apart from Kuala Lumpur, the company has also set its sights on Taipei, Manila, Koh Samui and Phnom Penh. Among those, Mr Bailey thinks Cambodia will be the most challenging market. 

“Cambodia has a very reserved culture, even compared with Indonesia, and it is still a developing economy,” he said. “Our mid- to high-level pricing is not a barrier in developed cities but in an emerging market, we do notice that it’s not as easy to fill the restaurant. But if we want to be a brand throughout Asia, we cannot cherry pick.”

IS HOOTERS’ RECIPE OF SEX APPEAL OUTDATED?

Hooters’ plan to increase its presence in this part of the world comes as the American diner faces souring profits and market share back home amid up-and-coming competitors such as Twin Peaks.

Since opening its first outlet in Florida in 1983, the restaurant chain has long been criticised for building its brand based on sex appeal.

When asked whether he thinks that Hooters’ concept is outdated and sexist, Mr Bailey said: “Good food and good quality service – these are at the heart of Hooters. I would like to think of us as a five-star hotel where you know what you are getting – big screens showing sports, ice-cold beer and wings.”

“The Hooters Girl is iconic. She is a professional who may be earning extra money for college or working hard to (become) a general manager. Waitresses, pretty or sexy, are professional service staff who give you a great experience.”

But one might ask what does good service have to do with skimpy uniforms?

To that, Mr Bailey replied: “The uniform has (been) altered over the last 30 years of the brand … and if you think this is dressing sexy, you might want to walk down Orchard Road on a Saturday. I think this is attractive, feminine and I don’t think this is overly sexualised in my opinion.”

In fact, all Hooters Girls are not allowed to don accessories, including earrings, bracelets and necklaces, to avoid “overly sexualising her image”. The chief of Hooters Asia also revealed that the main criteria for a Hooters Girl is a “vivacious, outgoing character” and the ability to dance. Apart from waitressing, female staff at Hooters also perform choreographed dances.

According to Mr Bailey, Hooters Girls enjoy “premium pay”, such as S$ 20 per hour for part timers and free gym memberships.

Ms Kelwen Liew, 21, says she likes the “fun, lively working environment” at Hooters. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

Twenty-one-year-old Kelwen Liew, who is working part time at Hooters, said she had reservations initially but the “fun, lively working environment” has since made her change her mind.

“I’ve heard people talking about how (we) are dressed skimpily but I don’t think so. We have stockings which provide some coverage and even the top is nothing too revealing for me,” the polytechnic graduate said. “To people who have a bad impression of Hooters, I would say it’s not what you think. The work environment is lively and fun, and people I’ve encountered so far treat us with a lot of respect.”

Follow See Kit on Twitter @SeeKitCNA 

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Small countries like Singapore, Switzerland must cooperate in fintech: Swiss Finance Minister

SINGAPORE: Singapore and Switzerland are not competitors when it comes to the development of financial technology (fintech) and with both countries being small financial hubs, it is important to cooperate, said Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer.

Mr Maurer was speaking to Channel NewsAsia after his tour of Lattice80 – a not-for-profit fintech hub located along Robinson Road – on Tuesday (Apr 18). The minister is in Singapore as part of a week-long trip in Asia and was leading a 20-member delegation, which comprised of representatives from the Swiss banking industry.

“It is important to have good relationships and today is a step to network between the two countries… I think it is important that small countries (which) are important financial centres have this network and understand the need to cooperate,” he said.

“We are not competitors (and) we can cooperate together.”

Last year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (Finma) signed a cooperation agreement to foster greater cooperation on fintech.

Mr Maurer noted that Singapore’s fintech scene is on a “high level” and there are learning points for Switzerland, such as in the case of consumer protection. “We are a little bit not in the same speed like you… but I think we can go step by step.”

The minister also noted that Singapore’s fintech sector benefits from its close proximity to a big Asian market, and can act as a stepping stone into Asia for Swiss fintech start-ups. For Singapore firms looking to expand into Europe, Switzerland can similarly do the same.

Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer listens to a presentation at Lattice80. (Photo: Tang See Kit)

“Singapore’s fintech (sector) is on a high level and we have to learn from you… We can continue this sense of cooperation between Singapore and Switzerland,” Mr Maurer said. 

Lattice80 is one of the organisations that the Swiss delegation is visiting during their time in Singapore. Launched in November 2016, more than 80 foreign and local fintech firms have taken up spaces at Lattice80, which is dubbed the world’s largest fintech hub by Singapore-based private investment group Marvelstone.

Ms Gina Heng, co-founder of Lattice80 and CEO of Marvelstone Group, noted that European start-up founders are among those who have taken up residence at the fintech hub as they view Singapore as the first step for their ventures in Asia.

“They see this as a central location to kick-start their companies. There’s good infrastructure and legal system, with a supportive government. We are also near to many countries which which makes it easier in terms of outreach,” she said.

A report by Deloitte dated September 2016 listed Singapore among the top fintech hubs globally, citing a business-friendly environment, adequate government support and access to expertise.

The report did not rank the 21 fintech hubs that were evaluated. Instead, it assessed the countries based on three main factors –  the Global Innovation index, the Global Financial Centre index and the Doing Business index – and both Singapore and London scored the best score of 10. Switzerland scored 42, coming in behind Silicon Valley, New York and Hong Kong.

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Singapore economy logs 2.5% growth in Q1, higher than expectations

SINGAPORE: For the first quarter of 2017, Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) expanded by 2.5 per cent compared to the same period a year ago, advance estimates from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) showed on Thursday (Apr 13).

That is higher than the median forecast of 2.4 per cent in a Reuters poll but marks a pullback from the previous quarter’s 2.9 per cent growth.

On a quarter-on-quarter, seasonally adjusted annualised basis, the economy shrank 1.9 per cent during the January to March period, coming in line with expectations. While the annualised GDP reading is a stark reversal from the stellar 12.3 per cent rebound last quarter, economists said it is not a cause for worry.

“The quarter-on-quarter figure tends to be very volatile. A mild pullback shouldn’t be a surprise given the manufacturing surge last quarter,” said Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin, referring to the strong turnaround in factory output towards the end of 2016 which provided a surprise lift to the overall economy.

For the first three months of 2017, Singapore’s manufacturing sector contracted 6.6 per cent on a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted annualised basis, reversing from the 39.8 per cent surge in the previous quarter.

On a year-on-year basis, the sector moderated from growth of 11.5 per cent to 6.6 per cent, which according to Dr Chua is still a “very healthy reading”.

In other sectors, construction continued to underperform by shrinking 1.1 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter, extending the 2.8 per cent decline in the previous quarter on the back of a slowdown in private sector construction activities. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted annualised basis, the sector expanded by 5.4 per cent, accelerating from the 0.8 per cent growth in the preceding quarter.

The services producing industries grew 1.5 per cent on a year-on-year basis in the first quarter, improving from growth of 1.0 per cent in the previous quarter. However, on a quarter-on-quarter basis, the sector shrank at an annualised rate of 2.2 per cent after expanding 8.4 per cent in the last quarter.

Such mixed figures show that the local services sector, which accounts for about two-thirds of the economy, continues to “punch below its weight”, said Mizuho Bank’s senior economist Vishnu Varathan.

“Anything related to the property or banking sector is not in high gear and with these uncertain (components), any recovery is not going to come as quickly as what we’ve seen in the manufacturing sector,” he told Channel NewsAsia. “Services will remain a lingering drag.”

MTI will release the revised GDP data for the first quarter, including performance by sectors, sources of growth, inflation, employment and productivity, in its Economic Survey of Singapore in May.

The advance GDP estimates are computed largely from data in the first two months of the quarter – in this case, January and February. They are intended as an early indication of GDP growth in the quarter and are subject to revision when more comprehensive data becomes available.

Private sector economists had forecast Singapore’s first-quarter GDP to be 2.6 per cent, according to the latest quarterly survey by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in March. For the full year, economists raised their GDP forecast to 2.3 per cent – a sharp hike from the previous estimation of 1.5 per cent.

That marks a pick-up from the 2.0 per cent growth recorded in 2016, and would be in the upper half of the Government’s official 2017 GDP forecast range of 1 to 3 per cent.

Noting the growth figures, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore’s economy “did quite well in Q1” and that the “outlook is encouraging”.

In a Facebook post on Thursday evening, Mr Lee added that he met labour movement leaders during the week to find out “how things are in their different industries”. 

“They spoke about the challenges they are facing, the changes they foresee, and how they are helping workers cope,” he wrote.

Mr Lee added that he will talk about Singapore’s economy and job situation at the upcoming May Day Rally. 

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MAS says no change to monetary policy, in line with expectations

SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) kept its exchange rate-based monetary policy unchanged at its semi-annual review on Thursday (Apr 13), in line with expectations.

In a statement, the central bank said it would maintain the rate of appreciation of the Singapore dollar nominal effective exchange rate (S$ NEER) policy band at zero per cent. The width of the policy band and the level at which it is centred will also be unchanged, it added.

“A neutral policy stance is appropriate for an extended period and should ensure medium-term price stability,” said MAS, reiterating a stance it first mentioned in its policy review last October.

Following the announcement, the Singapore dollar fluctuated between 1.3976 and 1.3956 against the US dollar.

The central bank noted that the Singapore economy will continue to expand at a “modest pace” this year while the MAS core inflation measure, which excludes accommodation and private road transport costs, will rise gradually on the back of higher global oil prices.

However, demand-driven inflationary pressures will likely be restrained, the statement added. Over the medium term, core inflation – a key policy consideration for the MAS – is expected to trend towards but average slightly below 2 per cent.

Given the “subdued outlook for growth and inflation”, its current neutral policy stance is “assessed to be appropriate”, MAS said.

MAS TO MAINTAIN NEUTRAL POLICY STANCE THIS YEAR: ANALYSTS

Analysts have largely expected the central bank, which manages the economy through the currency rather than setting interest rates, to maintain its current policy approach amid an uneven turnaround in the economy. The MAS allows the exchange rate to float within an unspecified policy band and changes the slope, width and centre of that band when it wants to adjust the pace of appreciation or depreciation of the Sing dollar.

Said Mizuho Bank’s senior economist Vishnu Varathan: “Despite a pick-up in manufacturing and exports, it has been uneven. As mentioned in its statement, it sees lingering lethargy in domestic sectors like services.”

He added: “Another reason is that global uncertainty remains high, with geopolitics being thrown into the mix now. They don’t know what will happen so they will not jump the gun for now.”

Advance estimates released by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) on Thursday showed first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 2.5 per cent year-on-year, easing from 2.9 per cent in the previous quarter, as the manufacturing sector moderated its pace of expansion.

With the MAS reiterating the view that its neutral policy stance is “appropriate for an extended period”, Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin thinks the central bank could stand pat yet again at its next policy review six months later, barring any surprise spikes in inflation or GDP growth.

“We were looking out for the phase ‘extended period’ to be dropped but they’ve maintained that in the statement so it seems to suggest that come October, the MAS may keep its policy stance,” said Dr Chua. The local labour market remains weak and inflation, both headline and core, remains stuck at the lower end of MAS’ forecast range, he added.

Westpac’s currency strategist Sean Callow echoed that sentiment, noting that “those hoping for a hawkish hint for October are likely to be disappointed”.

“There had been some market discussion over whether there would be any hint of a return to modest SGD appreciation from October 2017. There was not,” Mr Callow said. “Six months might seem a long time in (forex) markets but the MAS appears not to expect much to have changed by the next meeting.

Last April, the central bank unexpectedly flattened the slope of the band it uses to guide the local currency against an undisclosed trading basket, reducing the rate of appreciation to zero per cent.

The MAS maintained this stance last October and reiterated in February that the Government’s growth forecast of between 1 and 3 per cent this year falls within the “planning parameters” of its October monetary policy statement.

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NETS buys 2 OCBC subsidiaries for S$38m

SINGAPORE: Payment provider NETS on Tuesday (Apr 11) signed an agreement with Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) subsidiaries – Banking Computer Services (BCS) and BCS Information Systems (BCSIS) – for S$ 38 million. 

Upon completion of the acquisition, BCS and BCSIS will become wholly owned subsidiaries of NETS and will continue to operate as independent entities, according to NETS’ press release. 

The company’s strategic acquisition will enable it to deliver payment innovations that are simple, swift, secure and accessible to its customers. “The assimilation of both companies will enable a more pervasive digital payment platform which will facilitate wider adoption and utilisation of electronic payments,” it said.

BCS manages and operates the clearing and payment infrastructure for the Singapore Clearing House Association (SCHA), including managing an electronic service that allows immediate transfer of Singapore dollar funds between accounts of the participating banks in Singapore. It was set up in 1976 and currently operates core services like FAST (Fast And Secure Transfers), IBG (Inter-bank GIRO) and CTS (Cheque Truncation System).

BCSIS designs and develops clearing and payment technology solutions for the financial services industry. It also provides bureau services that include cheque processing, lockbox services, document digitisation and imaging, as well as business continuity services.

The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2017, NETS said. 

“The coming together of BCS and NETS is timely and fully aligned with Singapore’s electronic payments roadmap,” said Monetary Authority of Singapore’s managing director, Ravi Menon.

“The creation of a single operator for FAST, Interbank GIRO, and NETS EFTPOS will strengthen synergies across these key retail payment systems, encourage more innovative and inter-operable payments solutions, and spur the adoption of e-payments by consumers, businesses, and the Government,” he said.  

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UK firm Ingeus to help unemployed professionals get back to work

SINGAPORE: A UK recruitment firm will be one of two private-sector employment agencies working with the Singapore Government to help unemployed professionals get back to work, Workforce Singapore (WSG) announced on Thursday (Apr 6). 

Ingeus commenced operations on Monday at the Lifelong Learning Institute at Paya Lebar, while another overseas provider will start operations at the end of the second quarter of this year, WSG said in a media release.

Under a two-year pilot, both providers will localise their know-how and assistance models to help local unemployed professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) get back into the workforce, the statutory board added. 

The Government’s move to work with the private-sector employment agencies was announced by Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say in Parliament last month. 

The partnership is part of the Government’s plans to help more jobseekers who are what Mr Lim described as “missed match” cases. “They are ready for the jobs, the jobs are suitable for them, but they are yet to find each other,” he had said.

On Thursday, WSG said the two designated “career matching providers” were selected based on their focus, track record and capabilities in matching active jobseekers to jobs. They will help eligible jobseekers with customised career advice and coaching sessions, it added.

“Jobseekers will gain access to industry knowledge and insights and receive coaching in resume preparation, managing of interviews and profiling themselves to prospective employers to highlight their strengths,” it added in the news release. 

Only unemployed PMET jobseekers who have been actively searching for jobs for at least three months or have been made redundant may be assigned to the career matching providers after approaching the WSG Career Centres or the National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) Employability and Employment Institute (e2i) centres for Career Matching Services. 

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3D technologies set to up aerospace companies' competitive edge

SINGAPORE: 3D or additive manufacturing technologies are set to enable aerospace companies to become more competitive, according to industry experts at the NAMIC Aerospace Summit on Thursday (Apr 6).

According to GE Aviation vice president for Industrialisation Dr Sanjay Correa, 3D printing will complement the growth of the aerospace industry by helping to lower manufacturing costs and allowing greater flexibility in design.

“You can design with much greater freedom than before,” he said. “So ideally, the additive manufactured part is actually not simply reproducing a conventionally designed part. Typically, you can take weight out, you can have better performance, better life, because you simplify – say 20 parts joined by bolts or braces – and it’s just one continuously printed part. These are some of the advantages, in addition to speed, that make additive printing important for us.”

Agreeing, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) chief executive Ho Chaw Sing said costs and environmental concerns are key drivers for the development of 3D printing industry.

“From 2016 to 2022, the global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of close to 30 per cent and will hit something close to US$ 30 billion,” said Dr Ho at the summit which saw 200 participants from more than 30 companies.

However, he also acknowledged that there are some challenges that the industry needs to overcome, with the industry still in its nascent stages. “One of the few challenges that right now remains to be solved, besides the cost part of it, is the speed. It’s a big question mark. The materials play a key enabler to broaden the application using 3D printing.”

The application of 3D printing is also different across players in the industry, said Mr Sia Kheng Yok, chief executive of Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore (AAIS).

“As a whole, the adoption of additive manufacturing in aerospace is still fairly nascent,” he said. “We know one of the industry leaders, for example, is GE Aviation, which has implemented some additive manufactured parts in its engines. But others are still exploring what the potential is, in terms of economics, in terms of improvements to the quality of products and so on.”

Managing director of Embraer Asia Pacific Ricardo Pesce said the aerospace industry in Singapore contributes almost 3 per cent of Singapore’s total manufacturing output.

Mr Pesce, who is also a member of the AAIS management committee, added that the industry in Singapore has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8 per cent over the last two decades, with Singapore emerging as a key hub for maintenance, repairs and overhaul in the Asia-Pacific.

“The long-term growth prospects for the aerospace industry are very positive, spurred by growing demand for air travel,” he said. “The consensus view is that the Asia-Pacific region will continue to be the key driver of future growth and for the foreseeable future.”

As the aerospace industry continues to play a key part in driving high-quality and sustainable economic growth in Singapore through innovation and the adoption of technologies like additive manufacturing, the Government will continue to help support such efforts, the Economic Development Board (EDB) said.

“EDB will continue to support aerospace companies in their collaborations with research institutes and industry partners in the adoption of additive manufacturing,” said Tan Kong Hwee, director of transport engineering at EDB.

The Government has also been focusing on the development of the 3D printing industry, with the setting up of NAMIC, which is spearheaded by the Nanyang Technological University, together with Government agency SPRING Singapore and the National Research Foundation.

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Hotel booking site RedDoorz raises S$1.4m from Temasek-backed venture

SINGAPORE: Online budget hotel booking platform RedDoorz has raised US$ 1 million (S$ 1.4 million) in venture debt from InnoVen Capital, a joint venture between Temasek Holdings and United Overseas Bank (UOB).

The announcement on Tuesday (Apr 4) follows a string of venture debt financing agreements that InnoVen has inked over the past year as part of its goal to provide up to US$ 500 million in venture debt financing to start-ups in China, India and Southeast Asia.

InnoVen Capital, first formed in India about nine years ago, was rebranded in 2015 following a buyout by Temasek Holdings and UOB, with each committing up to US$ 100 million in paid-up capital. The start-ups that have since come under its radar include various sectors such as e-commerce and financial technology (FinTech).

Venture debt, a relatively new concept in Southeast Asia, is a type of financing for start-up firms which may not yet have the cash flow or assets to use as collateral for loans. It is an alternative to bank loans or raising capital by selling stocks to investors.

Mr Chin Chao, InnoVen’s CEO for Singapore and Southeast Asia, said: “We are constantly on the lookout for companies that have a solid track record and good backing, and the unit economics of RedDoorz have been impressive.”

For Singapore-based RedDoorz, the venture debt deal announced on Tuesday is an extension of the start-up’s Series A funding round, which was led by the likes of World Bank’s private financing arm International Finance Corporation and Singapore venture capital firm Jungle Ventures.

Founded by entrepreneur Amit Saberwal in 2015, RedDoorz has about 500 properties, mainly in Indonesia, listed on its online platform. Moving forward, the start-up is betting on rising disposable income and increased travel spending within Southeast Asia to fuel its expansion beyond Singapore and Indonesia.

“In the last one year, our revenue has grown 12 times while maintaining best-in-class unit economics. With this additional funding, we aim to leverage the strength of Southeast Asia’s economies to grow RedDoorz to become the largest online budget accommodation brand in the region,” said Mr Saberwal in a press release.

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Faster resolution of salary-related claims with new State Courts tribunal

SINGAPORE: From Saturday (Apr 1), statutory and contractual salary-related claims from employees will be heard at the new Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT) at the State Courts instead of the Labour Court in the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). 

This is expected to speed up the resolution of employment disputes, the State Courts said in a press release announcing the launch of the Tribunals on Friday. 

Established under the Employment Claims Act, the ECT will hear all statutory salary-related claims from employees covered under the Employment Act, Retirement and Re-employment Act and Child Development Co-Savings Act.

This includes claims relating to unpaid salaries, overtime pay, salary in lieu of notice, employment assistance payments and maternity benefits, the State Courts said.

In addition, the new ECT will hear more types of claims as compared to the Labour Court as it will hear contractual salary-related claims from employees, including Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) who earn more than S$ 4,500 per month. 

The Tribunals will bridge a gap for PMEs who are not covered under the Employment Act, and whose only recourse prior to the establishment of the ECT would be through the civil courts, the State Courts said. 

The claims relating to PMEs could include the payment of allowances, bonuses, commissions, salary in lieu of notice and retrenchment benefits, provided that these are expressed in monetary terms in the contract, it added. 

“CHEAPER, BETTER, FASTER”

Like the Small Claims Tribunals, the ECT is designed to provide a speedy, low-cost forum for parties to resolve their employment disputes, according to the State Courts.

It will be judge-led, with no lawyers involved. As its procedures are simplified compared to civil court remedies, the ECT will not be a forum for complicated employment claims and will only have jurisdiction to hear claims up to S$ 20,000, or S$ 30,000 if the dispute has undergone mediation assisted by the unions. 

The ECT will also only hear cases that have undergone mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), which will start operations on Saturday as well. 

“Mediation will play a critical role in the employment dispute resolution process to encourage the parties to resolve the matter amicably,” the State Courts said.

Speaking at the launch of TADM on Friday, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the alliance will strive to prevent disputes, but should any disputes arise, also provide a “cheaper, better, faster way” to resolve disputes than to going to civil court. 

The TADM will operate from two locations. The centre at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability will focus on local employees and provide job placement and social support services while the branch housed in MOM’s service centre in Bendemeer will focus on work pass holders and provide support for workers with pass-related issues. 

Employees can apply for mediation online within a year of the dispute, or within six months if the claimant has already left the company.

The application fee is S$ 10 for claims below S$ 10,000 and S$ 20 for those above.

No legal representation will be allowed, but union members can ask for the union to be present.

If a settlement is reached, TADM can help the claimant register the settlement agreement with the State Courts, where it will be as legally binding as a court order.

But if the employer disputes the claim or is unwilling to pay, TADM will refer the case to the ECT. 

There, a judgement order will be issued after adjudication by the tribunals and TADM will monitor if payment is made. TADM will also refer the case to MOM for appropriate enforcement actions if the order remains unpaid.

ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE

MOM said nine in 10 salary claims are currently resolved amicably settled through mediation within a month and TADM will work towards providing a similar service standard.

For those that have to escalate the claims to the ECT, there is a fee of S$ 30 for claims below S$ 10,000 and S$ 60 for those above. 

MOM is also funding a Short Term Relief Fund equivalent to one month’s salary, with a cap of S$ 1,000, to help low-wage workers in cases where employers are unable to repay salaries due to financial difficulties or business failures.

The fund is also means-tested and expected to cover the bottom 20th percentile of the workforce, it said. 

Beyond resolving disputes, TADM can connect workers with the Employment and Employability Institute to help them find jobs or refer them to social service officers if necessary.

It will also provide access to legal clinics, if legal advice on contractual terms is needed or if the case is worth pursuing in the civil courts.

For disputes not covered under the legislation, TADM can provide advisory services or offer voluntary mediation to help parties resolve the dispute.

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