A RISING star in the bunker trading industry barred from joining a rival firm for a year may not have to wait after all.
The High Court lifted the injunction against him, holding that any breach of his employment terms may be settled at trial.
The case has been of interest to industry players keen to watch how the courts will treat people who seek to migrate to rival firms when they have contract clauses that forbid them from doing so for a period, such as one year.
Mr Alan Tan, 41, a Shanghai- based bunkering executive, had resigned from A/S Dan-Bunkering in February, seeking to start work with rival firm Chemoil the following month.
But his contract allowed him to join the competitor only in April next year.
A/S Dan and Chemoil are the two giants in the bunker trading industry, said lawyers for A/S Dan who objected to his move, pointing out that Mr Tan was a top performer in the company.
Denmark-based A/S Dan supplies bunker fuels, lubricants, and related products and services for vessels worldwide from more than 2,800 bunker destinations.
In March, its lawyers from Rajah & Tann obtained a court injunction stopping Mr Tan from joining Chemoil. But last month, lawyers from WongPartnership, representing Mr Tan, successfully applied to Justice Choo Han Teck to lift the injunction.
Mr Tan was described by A/S Dan's lawyers as a top sales executive with links to 81 customers.
He was also an employee who possessed confidential information, the lawyers said.
A/S Dan lawyer Danny Ong had urged the court to maintain the freeze on Mr Tan until the trial was over, citing 'irreparable damage' to the firm.
But Justice Choo rebuffed the claim.
'It is easy to claim irreparable harm and applicants almost invariably do,' he said in judgment grounds released yesterday.
He said the firm may lose some business to Chemoil but that 'is not irreparable harm. If it were, injunctions will become the norm and not the exception'.
He added that injunctions were to be 'granted sparingly, with caution and on strong grounds'.
Justice Choo said it would be pointless if the injunction was not lifted until the trial began, as A/S Dan would have got what it wanted - which was to prevent Mr Tan from working for Chemoil until April next year.
He said if Mr Tan was found to have breached the contract, then he would have to pay damages to be assessed for the breach. This was a scenario best left to be decided at a trial, said Justice Choo.
Mr Ong then urged the court to allow the injunction issue to proceed to the Court of Appeal.
He said that there was great interest in the industry for a ruling from the Court of Appeal.
But lawyer Joy Tan, representing Mr Tan, countered that there was no new legal principle that needed consideration.
Justice Choo agreed, pointing out that A/S Dan was free to raise any general legal principle when the case goes to trial.
'Sometimes great drama might be produced from a limited script - but this was not such a case,' said the judge.