Lee Keng Hiong trading as William Trade & Tran-Services v Ramlan bin Haron

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Judgment Date22 February 2002
Date22 February 2002
Docket NumberDistrict Court Appeal No 600017

[2002] SGHC 33

High Court

Woo Bih Li JC

District Court Appeal No 600017 of 2001

Lee Keng Hiong (trading as William Trade and Tran-Services)
Ramlan bin Haron

Boon Khoon Lim and Dora Boon (Dora Boon & Co) for the appellant

Suchitra Ragupathy (Palakrishnan & Partners) for the respondent.

Mental Disorders and Treatment Act (Cap 178, 1985 Rev Ed)

Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed) ss 3 (1), 3 (6), 17 (1) (consd)

Employment Law–Employers' liabilities–Workmen's compensation–Workman employed by third party–Claim for personal injury by accident–Whether respondent liable to pay compensation–Whether third party's employing the workman was directed by respondent–Whether third party employee or independent contractor of respondent –Relevant factors–Whether injury arising out of and in course of employment–Injury arising in course of employment presumably also arising out of that employment–Sections 3 (1), 3 (6) and 17 (1) Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed)

The consignee of three pieces of cargo engaged William Trade & Trans-Services (“WTTS”) to clear and take delivery of the cargo. WTTS gave instructions to Putiyan for the job, and Putiyan in turn employed three workers, Ramlan bin Haron (“the claimant”) being one of them.

The claimant was severely injured during the unloading of the cargo. WTTS denied liability, taking the position that Putiyan was its independent contractor. The Commissioner of Labour (“the Commissioner”) found that Putiyan was an employee of WTTS and consequently, that Putiyan had employed the claimant for WTTS. The Commissioner also found that the act which caused the injury was within the course of the claimant's employment. WTTS appealed.

Held, dismissing the appeal:

(1) The court considered, inter alia, the following: WTTS would dictate how many workers Putiyan was to employ, the amount to be paid to the workers, and how much was to be paid for expenses; Putiyan worked for Foreign Freight Forwarders (S) Pte Ltd (“FFF”), a company controlled by the bosses of WTTS; Putiyan described himself as a wharf clerk or as being employed by WTTS; there was no invoice or bill from Putiyan to WTTS for services rendered; there was no evidence that Putiyan made a profit from the jobs from WTTS but he was paid a sum per hour plus an additional sum for overtime; Putiyan did work only for WTTS and FFF; Putiyan had free access to the office premises of WTTS and FFF; Putiyan was in possession of a stamp and stationery of WTTS. In the circumstances, the evidence was overwhelming that Putiyan was employed by WTTS and he in turn employed the claimant, and two others, for WTTS: at [26] and [27].

(2) However, even if Putiyan was an independent contractor, WTTS would still be liable because of s 17 (1) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Rev Ed). Under s 17 (1), a principal who engaged a contractor was liable to pay to any workman employed in the execution of the work any compensation which he would have been liable to pay if that workman had been immediately employed by him: at [28] and [29].

(3) The injury arose in the course of the claimant's employment. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, the natural presumption would be that the injury also arose out of that employment. This presumption has statutory force under s 3 (6) of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The claimant was a workman of WTTS and his injury did arise out of and in the course of his employment: at [43] and [45].

Woo Bih Li JC

1 This is a matter involving a claim by an injured worker Ramlan bin Haron (“the claimant”) under the Workmen's Compensation Act (Cap 354, 1998 Ed) (“the Act”). At the time of the incident at about 8.15pm on 26 January 1998, he was 55 years of age. The respondent was Lee Keng Hiong also known as William Lee. He was the sole proprietor of William Trade & Tran-Services (“WTTS”) with its office at 1 Sophia Road #03-09 Peace Centre, Singapore.

2 The claimant was injured during the unloading of three huge and heavy pieces of cargo comprising membranes which were used in the fabrication of platforms. The cargo was to be unloaded from the vessel MV Ocean Ady (“the vessel”) onto a barge Intermac 200 (“the barge”) at Berth PT 1 of the Pasir Panjang wharves.

3 The act which allegedly caused the injury arose from the claimant's unshackling of a piece of cargo. He had climbed up a ladder to do the unshackling after which he jumped down to avoid the shackle which was on a swinging rope or cable. He landed on his feet, slipped, fell backwards onto a sitting position and fell backward again with the result that his head hit the floor of the barge.

4 The evidence as to how the injury arose came from one Putiyan bin Soeri (“Putiyan”) who was assisting the claimant with the ladder. They were the two persons on the side of the barge where the claimant had fallen.

5 The claimant was left severely incapacitated and on 12 May 1999, his wife, Zaleha binti Ibrahim, was appointed to be his committee of his estate pursuant to the Mental Disorders and Treatment Act (Cap 178).

6 WTTS denied liability but not quantum which was fixed at $134,000. WTTS denied that the claimant was its employee. It was not seriously disputed that the claimant was employed by Putiyan and that Putiyan received instructions from WTTS. However, one of the main questions of fact was whether Putiyan was in turn employed by WTTS. WTTS's position was that Putiyan was its independent contractor.


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