How do I resolve a major dispute with my hirer?

The importance of having a written contract is not just to ensure a binding agreement on fees paid to you or the scope of work to be delivered, but just as importantly, the method of resolving any misunderstanding that may arise between you and your hirer on any of the agreed terms inside the contract.

If you and your hirer are unable to resolve this over a cup of coffee, then turn to the Dispute Resolution/Recourse clause* in your contract.

Primarily, there are three types of dispute resolution – Mediation, Arbitration and Litigation. Always resolve any dispute through negotiation or mediation first, with litigation as your last resort as it is costly and time-consuming. 

Here is a short explanation of what the three dispute resolutions look like:

Mediation

This is a voluntary process which engages the assistance of a neutral third party called a mediator. The mediator will facilitate negotiations between you and your hirer with the sole intention of reaching a mutually acceptable agreement. Primarily, he or she will guide the unhappy communication towards an understanding of both parties’ needs and interests. Mediation focuses on the interests of both parties, and both of you have control over the outcome, unlike in a lawsuit where you will face a judge deciding on your case. Mediation can also preserve your working relationship with your hirer, especially when the contract is for a long term. For more details on Mediation, click here.

Arbitration

This is a procedure in which the dispute is submitted, by agreement of both you and your hirer, to one or more arbitrators who will make a binding decision on the dispute. The lure of arbitration is that it is a much simpler version of a trial involving less complicated rules. The role of an arbitrator is similar to that of a judge, although the procedures are less formal e.g. the hearing can take place in a private, neutral venue. An arbitrator is usually an expert in his or her field of practice. However, do note that the final decision made by the arbitrator(s) is binding and there is limited scope for appeal after the decision is given. For more information on Arbitration, click here.

Litigation

This refers to the enforcing of one’s rights through the courts. Legal proceedings start with your lawyer sending a letter of demand to your hirer requesting a certain action by a given period of time. If your hirer does not respond, then you may commence court proceedings. The process of litigation is time-consuming and tedious, involving significant paperwork. It should be highlighted that since lawyers typically charge by the hour, a lengthy legal process will result in correspondingly hefty legal fees for you. For more information on Litigation, click here.

*extracted from the “ADVOCATES FOR THE ARTS – A LEGAL HANDBOOK FOR THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES”, developed by the Law Society Pro Bono Services

If I breach my contract, what will happen to me?

If you breach your contract, and depending on the seriousness of your breach, you may suffer termination by your hirer, a demand for damages, or worse, being sued and taken to court. However, if you breach your contract because of reasonable causes, e.g. discovering you have a critical illness, then do communicate honestly with your hirer to try and find an alternative solution.

However, if negotiations fail between you and your hirer, seek third party assistance, e.g. through the use of mediation services. However, as mediation is a voluntary process, it does not mean that your hirer is obligated to go for mediation just because you would like to do so. Hence, always include a Dispute Resolution/Recourse clause* in your written contract.

*extracted from the “ADVOCATES FOR THE ARTS – A LEGAL HANDBOOK FOR THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES”, developed by the Law Society Pro Bono Services

If my hirer breaches our contract, what can I do?

If your hirer breaches the contract e.g. failing to pay you on time or failing to pay you the agreed amount, exercise the Dispute Resolution/Recourse clause in your written contract. That means your contract must include the all-important Dispute Resolution/Recourse clause* so that the hirer is contractually bound to go for the agreed method of dispute resolution, e.g. mediation, if he flouts the terms of the signed contract.  

Generally, the recourse available to you includes:

  • termination of contract;
  • claim for damages;
  • specific performance of an act (which is usually a term stated in the contract) e.g. to return all copyrighted materials to you;
  • injunction requiring a party to do or cease to do an action.

*extracted from the “ADVOCATES FOR THE ARTS – A LEGAL HANDBOOK FOR THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES”, developed by the Law Society Pro Bono Services

Other Useful Links

IMDA Subsidised Mediation Service

In partnership with the Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC), IMDA will provide subsidies to eligible media freelancers and Singapore-registered companies to enable them to resolve their disputes through mediation at SMC, on issues such as late or non-payment for services rendered. This initiative aims to encourage a better work relationship between media freelancers and their clients.

https://www.imda.gov.sg/imtalent/programmes/subsidised-mediation-service-for-media

Law Society Pro Bono Services

Legal Clinics for needy individuals requiring basic legal advice. The calendar of such services, including day, location and timing, can be found at http://probono.lawsociety.org.sg/Pages/Volunteer-Schemes-Legal-Clinics.aspx

Singapore Mediation Centre

http://www.mediation.com.sg

Singapore International Arbitration Centre

http://www.siac.org.sg

The Law Society Mediation Scheme

http://www.lawsociety.org.sg/For-Public/Dispute-Resolution-Schemes/Mediation-Scheme

The Law Society Arbitration Scheme

http://www.lawsociety.org.sg/For-Public/Dispute-Resolution-Schemes/Arbitration-Scheme

State Courts Singapore

https://www.statecourts.gov.sg/

Supreme Court

https://www.supremecourt.gov.sg/