Staying ahead of the compliance curve

Ahead of HRM Asia’s Asia Employment Law Congress 2017, three leading legal minds share their insights on the regulatory concerns for HR leaders working in China, Malaysia, and Singapore


Jonathan Isaacs,

Head, China Employment Practice,

Baker & McKenzie

What will you be focusing on in your presentation to the Asia Law Employment Congress 2017?

The most pressing HR challenges for employers in Mainland China are implementing collective dismissals, dealing with non-compliance issues (particularly related to social insurance, where many employers have been under-contributing to mandatory funds) and handling constant employee arbitration and litigation. I will be focusing my presentation on each of these issues, but will spend most time on the implementation of collective dismissals, because this has become an increasingly hot topic over the past year.

Are mass terminations and redundancies becoming more common in China? What difficulties are involved for HR?

Yes - collective dismissals are becoming increasingly common as employers restructure or shut down operations in China.  Not only are the legal procedures and requirements difficult to handle, but employees themselves are becoming increasingly militant in their demands – across all industries – including through organising collective labour actions and strikes.  In some cases where global merger and acquisition deals have been involved, the collective actions delayed or blocked the deal from happening. 

Are lawsuits from disgruntled former staff members a problem?

They really are. Employees’ willingness to sue their employers has drastically increased over the past decade, particularly in the case of terminated workers.  This presents significant headaches for companies because arbitrators and judges are generally very pro-employee. The burden of proof is on employers to justify their actions.



Donovan Cheah,


Donovan & Ho

What legal issues do HR professionals dealing with Malaysia-based workforces need to be aware of?

Based on my experience, HR practitioners find termination of employees to be one of the most challenging facets of their jobs.  The law of unfair dismissal is one of the most crucial aspects of employment law in Malaysia. It is also one of the most misunderstood areas by both employers and employees.

HR departments should familiarise themselves with the strict legal conditions that must be fulfilled before an employee can be terminated, since non-compliance can result in significant financial ramifications.

Will this be the major focus of your presentation to to the Asia Law Employment Congress 2017?

Yes – it is very important. I hope to provide some practical insight about the common pitfalls and consequences when a termination is handled wrongly, and also offer some guidance on managing misconduct and poor performance in the workplace.



Goh Seow Hui,


Bird & Bird ATMD 

How do you expect the introduction of the Employment Claims Tribunal will change labour relations in Singapore?

The new Employment Claims Tribunal (ECT), which replaces the Ministry of Manpower’s Labour Court, will start hearing salary-related disputes from this month. Any employee can bring a claim to the tribunal, regardless of their salary level or rank, but both parties must make an attempt at mediation first.

I see two important changes with the introduction of the ECT.

First, companies may be faced with a higher incidence of salary-related claims, given the wider accessibility of the ECT compared to the old Labour Court.  The best way to address this risk is to ensure that the company’s termination processes are always legally compliant.

Secondly, the role of employment mediation will grow in importance, since it is strongly encouraged by the ECT as a means of alternative dispute resolution. 

Do Singapore’s tripartite guidelines on employment issues hold much legal weight?

Singapore’s employment and labour landscape has one unique feature – tripartism. The three partners of employers, unions, and governments work together to produce guidelines on key employment themes and issues, and although they do not have the force of law formally attached, companies cannot afford to ignore them.

 The recent high profile case involving infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong is a case in point.

What will you be focusing on in your presentation to the Asia Law Employment Congress 2017?

I will address the Surbana Jurong case specifically, and will also highlight the implications of the Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment in this current climate of economic uncertainty.


An expert for every jurisdiction

Jonathan Isaacs, Donovan Cheah, and Goh Seow Hui, are just three of the more than 12 country-specific legal experts presenting as part of HRM Asia’s Asia Employment Law Congress 2017 on June 13 and 14.

Delegates will learn the latest legal issues when it comes to employment relationships in each of: Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Australia. Another presentation will consider employment issues for multi-jurisdiction workforces across Asia-Pacific.

Delegates will also be able to put their own questions and challenges to the panel, during dedicated Ask-a-Lawyer HR Clinics at the end of each day’s programme.

For more information, visit


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