February 2, 2017

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing featured as 2017 Emerging Markets Expert by Asian Legal Business

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing has been featured in an article published in Asian Legal Business titled “2017 Emerging Markets Experts”. In this article, Asian Legal Business highlights a list of firms who are armed with the right network, client list and expertise to lead emerging markets as Asia’s frontier economies. The article was first published on Asian Legal Business January 2017 Asia edition. 2017 Emerging Markets Experts Source: Asian Legal Business © 2017 Thomson Reuters Date: January 2017 Author: Raj Gunashekar With the amount of legal work in developing economies, particularly in Southeast Asia, increasing, law firms need to have the right network, client list and knowhow to succeed. ALB compiles a list of firms that are making a name for themselves in Asia’s frontier economies. RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Established in 2011, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing boasts of 30 partners with Tan Chong Huat as the managing partner of the firm. The firm has demonstrated expertise in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Some of its clients include Alpha JWC, Nippon Paint, PT Berau Coal Energy, PT Uangteman, Standard Chartered Bank Indonesia and UOB Indonesia. RHTLaw Taylor Wessing has advised Nippon Paint on its investments in Indonesia, and Alpha JWC, an Indonesian-based venture capital firm, on its investments in both Indonesia and Singapore. It is also working with Otoritas Jasa Keuangan (OJK) and FinTech Association of Indonesia to provide inputs on the development of fintech regulations in Indonesia. View the full article published in Asian Legal Business January 2017 Asia Edition here.
January 26, 2017

“Failure to pay compensation awarded by the Labour Court under the Work Injury Compensation Act is a criminal offence”, Employment Partner Vernon Voon shares more with The Straits Times

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Partner Vernon Voon was featured in The Straits Times article titled “Give Labour Court more power to protect workers”. The article was first published in The Straits Times dated 26 January 2017. Give Labour Court more power to protect workers With the Labour Court expanding to become the Employment Claims Tribunals covering more workers, it's time to equip it with more power to enforce its own orders Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 26 January 2017 Author: Toh Yong Chuan Two separate labour cases against employers. Both involving Bangladeshi construction workers. Both workers won, yet they cannot get the payment orders enforced. In the first Catch-22, Mr Islam Rafiqul was owed $7,363 in unpaid salary and the Labour Court last month ordered his employer, Geosray Engineering and Services, to pay up. The employer ignored the order. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which runs the Labour Court, told Mr Islam to go to the State Courts to take action to seize the employer's assets to get the money back. This would involve him having to pay, out of his own pocket, legal fees as well as those for a bailiff and auctioneer, which he cannot afford. In the other case, the Labour Court last September ordered local company Ridgeway Marine and Construction to compensate Mr Sujan Ahmed $11,625. The company, which did not cover the worker with compulsory workplace insurance, made a small partial payment and stopped. To get the remainder, he has to take the employer to the State Courts. These two cases highlight a gap in the law meant to protect foreign workers. And while these cases involve foreign low-wage construction workers, the limitations of the system affect all workers, since the Labour Court covers local ones as well. The cases raise the question: Why can't the Labour Court enforce its own orders? LABOUR COURT'S ROLE AND GOOD INTENTIONS The Labour Court, despite its name, functions less like a court of law and more like an administrative tribunal. Its "courthouse" is within MOM's premises and its powers are mostly drawn from the Employment Act, Singapore's main labour law that sets out the basic terms and conditions for workers. It hears employment-related complaints on issues such as disputes over salary, dismissal and leave. The hearings are held behind closed doors and lawyers are not allowed to represent workers or employers. By cutting down on the legal paperwork and not involving lawyers, the fees for taking complaints to the Labour Court are very low: Employers pay $20 and workers pay $3. This makes the system accessible to all. The mediation process also makes the dispute less combative, which is in line with the longstanding desire by the Government, unions and employers to keep industrial relations harmonious. Other countries use a tribunal system to resolve labour disputes too. Hong Kong has its Labour Tribunal, offering "a quick, informal and inexpensive way of settling monetary disputes between employees and employers", says its website. Here, Labour Court sessions are run by the Commissioner for Labour and his deputies, who are senior officials in MOM. Its primary goal is to settle disputes through mediation, not make rulings and enforce the decisions. Mr Martin Gabriel, founder of human resources consultancy firm HRMatters21, says: "Employers see those chairing Labour Court sessions more as referees settling disputes rather than judges presiding over cases." Mr Gabriel, a former MOM officer, has advised about 10 employers and represented five in Labour Court sessions over the past 15 years. The court does not publish its decisions or an annual report, so little is known about the types of cases it handles. Still, the MOM received about 6,000 complaints of salary disputes each year in 2015 and 2016. Half were resolved without the cases going to the Labour Court. And of the 3,000 cases that went before the latter, 1,000 were resolved through mediation. Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said in a written reply to Parliament this month that in about 1,400 cases each year, the Labour Court had ordered employers to pay their workers. However, the employers in about 350 cases ignored the Labour Court's orders. Workers in such situations have one recourse, laid out in 2013 by then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin in a reply to a parliamentary question: "(They) may enforce the orders by way of writ of seizure and sale through the Subordinate Courts." This applies to payment orders across the different courts. Indeed, besides the Labour Court, the Small Claims Tribunals - which handle commercial and civil disputes of up to $10,000, or up to $20,000 if the parties consent to the higher limit - also follow the same process. The limitations of the Labour Court in enforcing its orders has not escaped labour lawyers. Having workers take their disputes to the Labour Court instead of civil courts only solves "half the problem", says Mr Vernon Voon, employment and labour relations partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing. This is because the worker still has to go to the civil courts to enforce the order if the employer does not pay up. "This requires time and financial cost, which an employee who is deprived of his salary can ill afford," says Mr Voon. BEEFING UP THE LABOUR COURT The Labour Court needs to do more to protect foreign low-wage workers as they are the most vulnerable to exploitation, says Mr Alex Au, an advocate for foreign workers' rights at Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2). Indeed, the Government already recognises that some workers need more protection than others. For example, the Employment Act covers all workers earning $2,500 and below a month, and manual workers on $4,500 and below. And when the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act was amended in 2012, it gave more powers to the MOM to protect foreign workers. For example, the MOM can appoint Commissioners for Foreign Manpower who can impose fines on companies that breach rules in hiring foreign workers. Boosting the powers of the Labour Court is a logical next step in protecting these vulnerable low-wage workers. The Labour Court is due to be expanded in April when it becomes the Employment Claims Tribunals (ECT). The ECT will cover workers at all salary levels. It will benefit professionals, managers and executives earning over $4,500 a month in particular, as they would otherwise have to file claims with the civil courts. The current Labour Court does not cover them. But one can imagine their disappointment if they were to obtain a court order and, in the event the employers refuse to pay, they are told they have to enforce the orders themselves. Given the expansion of the Labour Court in April, it is timely to review whether it can give workers more help. THREE WAYS TO GIVE IT TEETH First, make it easier for the worker to seek legal recourse against employers which do not pay. They should not have to take the step of seizing the employers' assets, with all the jumping through legal hoops that it involves. In Britain, a worker awarded payment by its Employment Tribunal can get help with enforcement. He can ask the court to force the respondent to pay by filling in a "penalty enforcement form". Respondents will be fined if they do not pay up within 28 days. There is no need for the British worker to seize the employer's assets and sell them. Second, punish employers which ignore the Labour Court orders. Mr Voon notes: "Failure to pay compensation awarded by the Labour Court under the Work Injury Compensation Act is a criminal offence, and there is no strong policy reason why non-compliance with an order of the Labour Court issued under the Employment Act shouldn't be on the same footing." The MOM already has the powers to charge employers in court for not paying salaries or injury compensation. The next logical step is to also punish the employers which ignore the court payment orders. This will reduce the non-compliance rate. Third, for workers whose employers cannot pay up, the Labour Court can direct the workers to get financial aid. In Hong Kong, there is a government-run Protection of Wages on Insolvency Fund that can pay workers if employers are bankrupt. Mr Au suggests another variation: a backstop fund which pays out the Labour Court orders first and claims from the employers later. For foreign workers, there is already a little-known relief fund here. The Migrant Workers' Centre - which is backed by MOM, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation - runs the Migrant Workers' Assistance Fund that has $457,706 as at March last year. It gave out $64,782 in assistance to workers in 2015. Whatever the source and mandate of the relief funds, the idea is that it need not be solely a government effort. Non-governmental organisations can chip in too. In the longer run, the scope and powers of the Labour Court, and the ECT from April, cannot remain static. Any move to review how the Labour Court can be enhanced to protect workers from the apparent injustice of not receiving their ordered payment or compensation cannot come too soon.
January 25, 2017

“The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will see Singapore putting in more resources to develop FTAs” Deputy Managing Partner Azman Jaafar said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia

“The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will see Singapore putting in more resources to develop FTAs.” RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deputy Managing Partner Azman Jaafar said this when interviewed by Channel NewsAsia on the United States formal withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The interview was featured in Channel NewsAsia and Channel 5 News. “This may not spell an end for trade agreements for export-oriented Singapore. Singapore might put in more resources to develop bilateral free-trade agreements with other countries in the region.” Other regional integration initiatives are still ongoing, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that is seen as a multi-lateral trade pact that will replace the TPP and deepen trade links amongst Asian countries and China.  The emerging global economic leadership of China will be the new normal. Azman’s full feature can be found in the following news reports: Singapore Tonight – Channel NewsAsia, 23 January 2017 5 News – Channel 5, 23 January 2017
December 30, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deputy Managing Partner Azman Jaafar interviewed by Channel NewsAsia

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deputy Managing Partner Azman Jaafar was interviewed by Channel NewsAsia and featured in an article titled "Slow start, but future remains bright for ASEAN Economic Community: Analysts". The article makes reference to an interview with Channel NewsAsia on Singapore Tonight segment, where Azman shared his views on the impact of ASEAN Economic Community on local SMEs in Singapore. The article was first published in Channel NewsAsia on 29th December 2016.  Slow start, but future remains bright for ASEAN Economic Community: Analysts Source: Channel NewsAsia Date: 29 December 2016 Author: Calvin Hui SINGAPORE: Saturday (Dec 31) will mark the first year anniversary of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Conceived as a single market and production base, the AEC is part of broader efforts to integrate ASEAN economies. But one year on from its inception, about 74 per cent of Singapore companies polled in a recent Singapore Business Federation (SBF) survey said they do not think the AEC has benefited them. Associate Professor Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA), said bigger companies have the capabilities to take advantage of opportunities from the AEC, but smaller business may not be so well equipped to do so. “So the big test in the longer term will be whether the SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) will be able to also play across the region,” he said. “And not just Singapore SMEs, (but also) Filipino SMEs, Indonesian SMEs. “It will take some time because the integration is not just as deep. (There's) still too much bureaucracy and rules standing in the way. The tariffs, I think are gone, but these non-tariff measures are almost like barriers to deeper integration.” RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s deputy managing partner Azman Jaafar agreed that the lack of resources is a stumbling block for smaller companies. However, he added that it “just means that you have to be a little more ingenious”. IMPORTANT TO CHANGE MINDSET                              ASEAN’s market of more than 600 million people, and almost US$3 trillion in combined GDP, represents vast opportunities for companies from the city-state of Singapore. But Mr Azman, who is also chairman of the law firm’s ASEAN Plus Group, said local companies could have traditional business models that limits the extent of their expansion outside of Singapore.  “Local SMEs who want to benefit from the AEC must rethink how they are doing their business, and how they should change their mind set, and apply quite different rules of engagement,” he said. Governments can also help to change these attitudes. Said Assoc Prof Tay: “Sometimes, SMEs, not just in Singapore but other countries - they are really on the defensive. Say (they) don't let people in, because I can't compete in my own home market. “I think increasingly, governments have got to reassure SMEs that as the AEC opens up, they will be given assistance by ASEAN, by governments on the whole, to also go out and become more competitive, become more efficient on the whole about boundaries." There is also the cultural diversity of the 10 member countries in ASEAN to consider, said Mr Azman. “When our local businesses are able to appreciate these differences, they are probably better placed to get into these markets,” he said. LONG TERM OUTLOOK BRIGHT Observers agree that it is premature to write off the AEC despite its slow start. "There's a right to get a bit disappointed with the AEC in the first year,” said Assoc Prof Tay. “But what makes me slightly optimistic is that, at the national level, different key economies have already started to see the need for reform." Mr Azman emphasised that the push for the AEC to succeed must not come from just the governments, but other key stakeholders too. “It’s easy to say that the government has got to push this. But at the end of the day, a lot of things happens without government assistance. “Within industries and within countries, if we keep discussing this, we open up the discussion across borders. This creates a level of awareness that’s very different from the level of awareness in a local forum.”  Azman's full feature can be found in the news report: Singapore Tonight - Channel NewsAsia, 29 December 2016