Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng and Others

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeGoh Joon Seng J
Judgment Date24 November 1994
Neutral Citation[1994] SGCA 133
Citation[1994] SGCA 133
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselHarbajan Singh (Daisy Yeo & Co)
Date24 November 1994
Plaintiff CounselJude Benny and Abbas Ali (Joseph Tan Jude Benny & Co)
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No 27 of 1994

Cur Adv Vult

This is an appeal against the judgment of Warren LH Khoo J (reported as Ler Hock Seng & Ors v Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd [1994] 2 SLR 190 ), which declared that the respondents are entitled to be paid retrenchment benefits at the rate of one month`s basic wages for each year of service and ordering judgment to be entered for each of them in terms of the amount agreed or ascertained less the amount of $6,250 already paid to each of them including interest at the rate of 6% pa on the net amount from 1 January 1988.

The question which arises is whether the respondents, all of whom were employees of the appellants, are entitled to retrenchment pay in excess of the sum of $6,250 each was paid, on being retrenched from the employment of the appellants pursuant to retrenchment notices, dated 1 December 1987, addressed to each respondent individually, the material portions of which read:

We regret to inform you that owing to the prolonged and continuing adverse economic environment confronting our company, we are forced to carry out retrenchment and accordingly you are hereby advised that we are giving you one month notice with effect from 1 December 1 1987 terminating your services with the company. Your last day of service with the company will be 31 December 1987.



...

All employees above three years of service shall be paid half month basic wage per year of service and pro-rated thereof for any incomplete year of service subject to the maximum of five months` basic wages or $6,250 whichever is the lower.

The formulation of the respondents` claim was that it was a term of their employment that they would be `entitled to all other benefits` applicable to their employment status `in accordance with the [appellants] current policies and practices and subject to the provisions of any relevant law` and that by reference to the appellants` policies and practices affecting the payment of retrenchment benefits for employees who were non-union members with more than three years` service since 1976, when all such employees were paid a minimum of one month`s salary for every year of service, it was a term of their contract of employment with the appellants that on being retrenched they would be paid one month`s salary for every year of service. Alternatively, they claimed that under the law, it was an implied term of their contract of employment with the appellants that in the event of retrenchment they would be paid a minimum of one month`s salary for every year of service once they had exceeded three years of service with the appellants.

The appellants contended that on a true construction of the contracts of employment the respondents had with them, the respondents were entitled to such benefits, including retrenchment benefits, which the appellants in their absolute discretion may from time to time declare to be their current policy.

Accordingly, in the court below the issue was not whether the respondents were entitled to be paid retrenchment benefits but what was the amount of the retrenchment benefits to be paid to the respondents. In other words, what was the formula for computing the retrenchment pay of each of the respondents.

We should here set out the historical background leading to this dispute. It is common ground that the appellants were a joint venture company incorporated in Singapore in 1969. The joint venture partners were the Bethlehem Steel International Corp, an American corporation and the Development Bank of Singapore with the former holding the majority of the $15m paid-up capital. The appellants who were engaged in the business of shipbuilding and other marine and related businesses, commenced business in 1970. The respondents, of whom there were 45, were engaged by the appellants on various dates between 1970 and 1985. Thus all of them had been in continuous employment with the appellants for more than three years as at the date of service on them of the retrenchment notices dated 1 December 1987. Most of the appellants` employees were members of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees` Union (the union) but the respondents were not. There were several variants to the letters of appointment used by the appellants. Three such letters of appointment were exhibited. We set out the wording of the `other benefits` clause in each of them.

8 November 1971 Other benefits: You will accorded [sic] all other benefits applicable to your employment status in accordance with the current company`s policies and practices.

12 July 1972 Other benefits: You will be entitled to all other benefits applicable to your employment status in accordance with the company`s current policies and practices and subject to the provisions of any relevant law.

12 April 1977 Other benefits : You will be entitled to all other benefits, including but not limited to retrenchment benefits, applicable to your employment status in accordance with the company`s prevailing policies and practices and subject to provisions of any relevant law.



It is agreed by both the appellants and the respondents that the other letters of appointment had similar wording for the `other benefits` clause. Three previous retrenchment notices, two in 1976 and one in 1977, were exhibited. These three retrenchment notices were addressed to all employees (and not individually as the retrenchment notice dated 1 December 1987 was) informing them that about 100 to 150 employees would be retrenched on the date of each retrenchment notice and exhorting those who were not to `continue diligently` with their duties. The retrenchment benefit offered to those who had been in employment with the appellants for more than three years was `one month`s basic wage for each...

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6 cases
  • Shenyin Wangou-APS Management Pte ltd (formerly known as Shanghai International-APS Management Private Limited) and Another v Commerzbank (South-East Asia) Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 5 September 2001
    ...is necessity and not merely reasonableness." Karthigesu JA in an earlier decision in Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng [1995] 1 SLR 1 was of the same view. I need not refer to the numerous other authorities on this point save to say that general point is that the courts do not imp......
  • Mah Wand Hew v Ong Yew Huat & Another
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 25 November 2002
    ......representatives from the defendant company from Singapore would be sent to assist her. Help never came. After two ...I accept the evidence of Mah Seng Peng and Tan Lye Choo. regarding her financial ...Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng [1995] 1 SLR 1 and Loh Siok Wah v American. ......
  • Wee Kah Lee v Silverdale Investment Pte Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 11 August 2000
    ...Partnership) for the plaintiff Leslie Yeo Choon Hsien (LJ Wong & Yeo) for the defendant. Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng [1994] 3 SLR (R) 938; [1995] 1 SLR 1 (folld) Seldon v Davidson [1968] 2 All ER 755 (refd) Housing Developers (Project Account) Rules (Cap 130, R 2, 1997 Rev E......
  • Loh Siok Wah v American International Assurance Company Ltd
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 30 April 1998
    ...Associated Japanese Bank (International) Ltd v Credit du Nord SA [1989] 1 WLR 255 (refd) Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng [1994] 3 SLR (R) 938; [1995] 1 SLR 1 (folld) BP Refinery (Westernport) Pty Ltd v Shire of Hastings (1978) 52 ALJR 20 (folld) Lister v Romford Ice & Cold Stora......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • Contract Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2001, December 2001
    • 1 December 2001
    ...however, Choo JC also referred (see ibid) to the earlier Court of Appeal decision of Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng[1995] 1 SLR 1 which I have argued has, with respect, actually engendered more difficulties than it has solved (see generally Phang at 268—271); indeed, the learne......
  • Contract Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2000, December 2000
    • 1 December 2000
    ...High Court decision of Wee Kah Lee v Silverdale Investment Pte Ltd[2000] 4 SLR 429, where Bethlehem Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng[1995] 1 SLR 1 was applied (for difficulties with this lastmentioned decision, albeit in a somewhat different context, see Phang, at pp. 269—270)). It is sugg......
  • BONUSES (AND OTHER PAYMENTS) IN EMPLOYMENT
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal Nbr. 2012, December 2012
    • 1 December 2012
    ...33 ILR 159. 92 [2009] IRLR 328; [2009] UKEAT 0248_08_2301. 93 [1998] 2 SLR(R) 245. See also Bethleham Singapore Pte Ltd v Ler Hock Seng[1994] 3 SLR(R) 938. 94 Loh Siok Wah v American Assurance Co Ltd [1998] 2 SLR(R) 245 at [43]. 95 [2010] 3 SLR 1069. 96 See also Kim Eng Securities Pte Ltd v......

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