M P Rama Rao A/L Padiyah v TCG Rengo (S) Limited

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeJames Leong Kiu Yiu
Judgment Date15 October 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] SGDC 261
Citation[2018] SGDC 261
Docket NumberDistrict Court Suit No. 270 of 2017, District Court Appeal No. DCA 22 of 2018
Hearing Date24 May 2018,23 August 2018
Plaintiff CounselMr Dhanwant Singh (S K Kumar Law Practice)
Defendant CounselMr Leonard Loh (Tan Kok Quan Partnership)
Subject MatterContract - Employment,Whether Termination Wrongful,Entitlement to Retrenchment Benefits,Civil Procedure,Premature Disclosure of Offer to Settle
Published date09 April 2019
District Judge James Leong Kiu Yiu: Introduction

The Plaintiff commenced employment with the Defendants on 29 February 1988. On 9 December 2016, after more than 28 years of service, his employment was terminated with the payment of two weeks of salary in lieu of notice. The Plaintiff commenced the current action for wrongful termination in breach of contract by way of writ of summons filed on 2 February 2017. Affidavits of evidence were filed respectively by the Plaintiff in support of the claim and one Kwok Fong Meng, a Human Resource and Admin Section Manager, on behalf of the Defendants. The action proceeded for trial before me on 24 May 2018. At the conclusion of the trial, timelines for the exchange of written Closing Submissions were agreed upon. On 23 August 2018, I delivered brief oral grounds when dismissing the Plaintiff’s action with costs fixed at $ 16 000 in total having regard to an Offer to Settle (“OTS”). The Plaintiff has appealed on 5 September 2018 the dismissal of the action and my full grounds of decision are set out below.

Plaintiff’s Submissions

The Plaintiff’s pleaded claim was premised, inter alia, on the: Breach of Section 10 (3) (d) of the Employment Act (Cap 91) (“EA”) that required at least four weeks of notice since the Plaintiff had been employed for more than five years; Wrongful termination based on three incident logs which the Plaintiff disputed; and Wrongful attempt by the Defendants to avoid paying the Plaintiff retrenchment benefits which would become due upon his services no longer being required.

In the Plaintiff’s Opening Statement, it was elaborated that: The two weeks’ notice period was void ab-initio as it was contrary to Section 8 read with Section 10(3) of the EA; Additionally, the dismissal founded on the 3 incident logs was wrong in law; The appropriate remedy was for the Plaintiff to be compensated for all the losses suffered from 9 December 2016; The Plaintiff who had 30 years of service should be reinstated or alternatively paid for all the losses suffered; and The 30 years of service made the Plaintiff’s case a special one.

In support of these submissions, the Plaintiff relied on the House of Lords decision of Vine and National Dock Labour Board [1957] AC 488 (“Vine”), submitting at [7] of the Opening Statement that:

“the dismissal is wrong in law and therefore the Plaintiff should be restored if not as far as possible be adequately compensated as in the Vine’s case given that he is now 51 years of age and will have difficulty getting another job in Singapore or elsewhere.”

Defendants’ Submissions

In the Defendant’s Opening Statement, it was submitted that: The termination of the Plaintiff’s employment upon payment of two weeks’ salary in lieu of notice was proper and not in breach of contract; The allegations of bad faith did not further the Plaintiff’s case because they were irrelevant and unsupported on the evidence; and That even if there was a breach of contract, the Plaintiff was not entitled to payment of further sums.

In support of these propositions, the Defendants highlighted various Singapore High Court and Court of Appeal authorities set out in their bundle and supplementary bundle of authorities. At [24] of their Opening Statement, they distinguished the case of Vine on the facts and submitted that it did not assist the Plaintiff’s claim for substantial damages.

Material Documents

By an offer of employment from the Defendants dated 29 February 1988 at AB7-9 that was accepted by the Plaintiff on 11 March 1988, the Plaintiff was offered a commencing salary of $ 13 per day and placed on a probationary period of three months. During the probationary period, the employment could be terminated by either party giving one week’s notice or salary in lieu thereof. The clause further provided that “On satisfactory completion of the probationary period, termination of service would require two (2) week’s written notice by either party or payment in lieu thereof.”

By a letter of confirmation dated 23 May 1988 at AB11 from the Defendants, the Plaintiff was notified that he was to be confirmed with effect from 29 May 1988 and that “As from the date of your confirmation, the period of notice of termination of employment by either party will be two (2) weeks, or salary in lieu of such notice.”

The disciplinary records of the Plaintiff, especially the four incident logs occurring on 25 September 2013 at AB27, 12 March 2015 at AB28, 18 May 2016 at AB29 and 8 December 2016 at BA88 were material. In essence, save for the 2013 incident, the Plaintiff disputed knowledge of these logs and the authenticity of his signature on the one dated 12 March 2015. It was not in dispute that the logs for the two incidents in 2016 are not signed by the Plaintiff.

Relevant Statutory Provisions

Part II of the EA on Contracts of Service was relevant, particularly sections 8 to 11 which provide as follows:

“Illegal terms of contract of service

Every term of a contract of service which provides a condition of service which is less favourable to an employee than any of the conditions of service prescribed by this Act shall be illegal, null and void to the extent that it is so less favourable.

Termination of contract

A contract of service for a specified piece of work or for a specified period of time shall, unless otherwise terminated in accordance with the provisions of this Part, terminate when the work specified in the contract is completed or the period of time for which the contract was made has expired. A contract of service for an unspecified period of time shall be deemed to run until terminated by either party in accordance with the provisions of this Part.

Notice of termination of contract

Either party to a contract of service may at any time give to the other party notice of his intention...

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