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Written Answer by Minister for Manpower Mrs Josephine Teo on Workplace Sexual Harassment

NOTICE PAPER NO. 350 OF 2021 FOR THE SITTING ON 5 APRIL

QUESTION NO. 903 FOR WRITTEN ANSWER TO QUESTION FOR ORAL ANSWER NOT ANSWERED BY END OF QUESTION TIME

MP: Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song

To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) what legal obligations do employers have to (i) enact measures (including training) to prevent workplace sexual harassment (ii) implement reporting procedures for victims of such harassment to seek redress within the company and (iii) properly deal with complaints; (b) what are the legal consequences for employers which fail to do so; and (c) whether the Government has any plans to strengthen legislation to increase employers’ obligations including allowing statutory claims against employers in such cases.

Answer

  1. In regulating workplace practices, Singapore adopts a tripartite approach. This means building a consensus that has taken into account the views of workers and employers, as well as desirable social norms. Instead of legislation alone, we also rely on tripartite guidelines, standards and advisories to shape progressive workplace cultures. Where undesirable practices emerge, we will assess their extent and severity, and seek tripartite consensus on appropriate interventions. To address concerns about workplace harassment, tripartite partners have adopted several measures.
  2. In 2015, we issued a Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment (Advisory). It sets out behaviours that constitute harassment and good practices that all employers should adopt to prevent its occurrence. The good practices include developing a harassment prevention policy, putting in place safe avenues to surface grievances, and providing information and training so that all levels of the organisation are aware and committed to prevent and respond to workplace harassment.
  3. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) oversees the implementation of this Advisory. It conducts regular workshops to equip employers and key HR personnel with the know-how on effective management of workplace harassment. In 2019, TAFEP expanded its efforts by setting up a Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre. The Centre provides support and recourse for employees who have encountered workplace harassment.
  4. TAFEP also investigates all complaints of workplace harassment. Employers are advised that TAFEP will report to MOM egregious offenders who fail to provide a safe environment or refuse to improve their grievance handling process, which will trigger a review of the firm’s work pass privileges. Thus far, all employers engaged by TAFEP on workplace harassment matters have been cooperative and receptive. Their follow-up actions include rectifying lapses, taking preventive measures and bringing their practices in line with the Advisory. As such, there has been no need for TAFEP to escalate actions to MOM.
  5. There are also civil remedies for harassment behaviour that constitutes offences under the Penal Code and the Protection from Harassment Act. While such cases are rare, TAFEP would advise and refer affected employees to seek redress through the Police or the Courts. To date, TAFEP has advised 8 employees to lodge their cases with the Police.
  6. While we have seen greater awareness and progress in terms of preventive actions, MOM and the tripartite partners will continue to monitor developments and assess if further measures are needed.