NINETY-EIGHT laid-off workers will get more than double the retrenchment benefits originally paid to them, after the Industrial Arbitration Court (IAC) decided in their favour yesterday.
Electronics firm Sealing Technologies had given the workers - who had all served for three years or more - an ex gratia payment of two weeks' basic pay per year of service.
But the workers, who are members of United Workers of Electronic and Electrical Industries, wanted more: a month's pay per year of service. They also wanted the benefits to be pro-rated for incomplete years of service.
The court yesterday ordered Sealing Technologies to top up the difference. The company will have to pay about $548,000 in total to the workers.
The dispute was sent to the IAC in July when conciliation attempts by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) failed.
Yesterday, Sealing Technologies' chief financial officer Wong Yuk King argued that the company had no legal obligation to pay retrenchment benefits.
And as it had not yet signed a collective agreement with the union at the time, it had full discretion to decide the amount, she added.
The workers were laid off last December and this February. The union countered that it had been recognised by Sealing Technologies in November 2010 and therefore the company was obligated to negotiate with it on issues such as retrenchment benefits, said National Trades Union Congress director of legal services Patrick Tay.
Collective agreement negotiations began in May last year, but hit a deadlock and were referred to MOM in late December.
Sealing Technologies was planning to retrench workers because its Singapore manufacturing plant had suffered a loss for two years running.
MOM suggested that it wait until a collective agreement was signed - but the company went ahead.
Yesterday, the IAC president, Justice Chan Seng Onn, said the court was not confined to deciding cases exclusively on legal grounds. He agreed that as the company had recognised the union, it was "obliged to negotiate with it in good faith" on industrial issues.
In ordering Sealing Technologies to pay the extra sums, Justice Chan noted that most of those retrenched were low-wage workers, the company could afford to pay, and one month's pay per year seemed to be the industry norm. There was also no clear evidence that those retrenched found jobs with similar pay soon after.
Mr Tay was "extremely happy" with the decision, which he said was significant, given the lack of a signed collective agreement.
Also happy was 44-year-old Roslan Mohd Noor, one of those retrenched. But he still wished it could have been resolved earlier. "It's been so long already," he said.
The drawn-out process also meant that the union is having trouble contacting all the retrenched workers - and making sure the money gets to them.
As Sealing Technologies will pay the $548,000 sum to the union to disburse, the union hopes the workers whom it cannot reach will come forward to collect what is owed to them.