SNEF Advisory on Employee Grievance Handling

Preface

1. Employers value the industrial harmony built up painstakingly by the tripartite partners over the last 40 years. With the support of the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), employers have been able to resolve labour challenges and issues both at the company and national levels in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation.

2. On 26 and 27 Nov 2012, this industrial peace was shattered by a group of foreign workers who staged an illegal strike by refusing to go to work over the issues of salary increments and living conditions. However, following the quick actions of the government and concerned parties, SNEF is confident that employer-employee trust will be restored.

3. Nevertheless, SNEF was distressed by the incident and is seriously concerned over the issues that have surfaced. It has also taken heed of the call by the Acting Minister for Manpower that as part of good management and HR policies, employers should ensure that lines of communication are kept open and they have proper grievance handling procedures in place.

4. SNEF has therefore decided to issue this Advisory to urge employers to review their grievance handling procedures to ensure that they remain practical and relevant to their employees in the light of the changing workforce profile and emerging workplace challenges.


Diversity and Employee Relations

5. The profile of the workforce has changed considerably. Of the 3 million workers, there are 1 million foreigners1. Since 2002, the number of workers aged 50 and over has increased by 320,000 to 657,000 in 20122. Over the same period, the number of resident female workers has increased by 267,000 to 942,0003. This growing diversity coupled with changing management practices not only increases the need for employers to better communicate with their employees but also raises the potential for employee grievances over work-related issues.

6. Grievances may fall under four categories. These are:

a. Company policies such as leave management and work practices.
b. Wages such as salary, bonus and overtime pay.
c. Working conditions such as hygiene, safety and health issues.
d. Interpersonal relations such as conflict with co-workers or supervisors.

Unresolved grievances affect the morale and motivation of employees and may have repercussions such as business disruptions. Employers therefore need to strengthen their employee engagement processes. SNEF strongly urges employers to put in place employee grievance handling procedures to resolve grievances fairly, responsibly and expeditiously. In this respect, SNEF notes that unionised companies follow processes laid out in their Collective Agreements to address the grievances of union members.


Developing/Reviewing the Procedures

7. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) has published a handbook on employee grievance handling procedures. This is available at our websites ( www.snef.org.sg and www.tafep.sg). The handbook offers practical tips and helps employers through the process of developing such procedures. SMEs may also wish to access the SPRING Singapore-SNEF HR Capability Toolkit and in particular the Employee Relations Module at www.hrcapability.sg/tool-kit/. An example of a basic employee grievance handling procedure is in Annex A. SNEF recommends that employers adopt or adapt any of these models to establish employee grievance handling procedures that are appropriate for their organisations.

8. SNEF recommends that employee grievance handling procedures be easy to understand and include the following:

a. Easily accessible contact points to lodge grievances.
b. Timelines to ensure that grievances are dealt with quickly, but which can be extended if both parties agree.
c. Avenues and time limits for appeals to senior management.
d. Alternative third-party channels can be approached for advice, conciliation, mediation or arbitration.


9. SNEF also recommends that employers communicate the procedures to employees and to include this in the employee induction programme. The procedures should also be explained to employees in the language that they can understand.


Proactive Employee Communication

10. In addition to setting out the procedures, SNEF recommends that employers:

a. Have regular employee dialogues including scheduling sessions to accommodate shift workers.
b. Go beyond symptoms to analyse root causes of employee grievances with a view to prevent future occurrences.
c. Be proactive in seeking employees’ perceptions and views on workplace issues.



Informal Grievance Handling in SMEs

11. SNEF recognises that many SMEs have informal employee grievance handling processes that are supplemented by regular staff dialogues and an open door policy. In such companies, it will be even more important to have a culture for open communication that is led and supported by top and senior management. SNEF encourages SMEs to consider adapting the templates provided and to integrate employee grievance handling procedures into their company policy for greater transparency. SMEs requiring assistance can call SNEF at 6221 2334 or email us at smehr@snef.org.sg.


General Grievance

12. Where more than one employee has a similar grievance, they may appoint a representative from among themselves and follow the company's employee grievance handling procedure.


Role of HR, Line and Senior Management

13. Developing good employer-employee relations is not solely the work of the HR. The critical responsibility of HR is to establish and effectively administer the employee grievance handling procedures, and to escalate the matter to higher levels of management if it cannot be resolved within a specific time frame. It is the responsibility of supervisors and line managers to ensure that employee grievances are resolved effectively and in a timely manner. SNEF recommends that employers provide adequate training for HR, supervisors and line managers so that they have the skills and confidence to resolve employee grievances. One competency-based programme is the HR WSQ module on Resolving Grievances and Disputes.


Conclusion

14. Proper procedures for handling employee grievances within the broader context of employee engagement develops the trust of employees in the organisation and addresses employees’ concerns before they develop into disputes. They also help to identify areas for improvement to strengthen employee morale and satisfaction. Ultimately, they contribute to the development of a committed and motivated workforce.


Contact Information for SMEs

Human Resource Advisory and Information Service for SMEs
Singapore National Employers Federation
Tel: 6221 2334
Email: smehr@snef.org.sg _______________________________________________________________________________

1 MOM Annual Labour Market, 2011.
2 MOM Singapore Workforce, 2012.
3 MOM Singapore Workforce, 2012.




Annex A

Example of a basic grievance handling procedure in a non-unionised SME

General: All grievance information shall be considered confidential. Grievance materials will be maintained in a separate file from the employee’s personal file.

Step One
Any employee who has a grievance, may within 3 working days of it arising, raise the matter either verbally or in writing to his immediate supervisor who shall respond within 3 working days. If the grievance is against his immediate supervisor, then the employee should bring the matter directly to the attention of the Department Head as in Step Two.

Step Two
If the employee is still aggrieved, he may within 5 working days refer the matter to the Department Head who shall resolve the grievance within 5 working days.

Step Three
If the employee is still aggrieved, he may refer the matter within 7 working days to the person in charge of HR who will represent the Management to resolve the matter, within 7 working days, unless an extended period of time is agreed to by both parties.

Step Four
If the employee is still aggrieved, the matter shall be referred to the CEO who shall resolve the matter within 7 working days. The CEO’s decision shall be final. However both parties may agree to refer the matter to a mutually acceptable third-party for advice.

     

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