Oral Answer to PQ on Workplace Fairness Legislation
NOTICE PAPER NO. 1942, 1944, 1955, 1960, 1972, 1973, 1984, 1992, 1993, 2009, 2010 OF 2023 FOR THE SITTING ON OR AFTER 3 JULY 2023
QUESTION NO. 4628, 4631, 4648, 4651, 4658, 4676, 4678, 4692, 4711, 4737, 4750, 4764, 4813, 4814 FOR ORAL ANSWER
MP: Seah Kian Peng
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) in the last five years, what have been the commonly reported forms of workplace discrimination; (b) whether there has been an increasing trend of discriminatory practices; and (c) how will the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation address these issues.
MP: Patrick Tay Teck Guan
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) he can provide an update on the progress of the proposed Workplace Fairness legislation; and (b) when considering the proposed legislation, whether the Ministry will take into account (i) plans to mitigate any negative impact (ii) how employees can seek help and (iii) the impact on the employer-employee relationship.
MP: Yeo Wan Ling
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether the Ministry will provide SMEs with additional support measures to ensure that they are compliant with fair employment best practices and processes; and (b) if so, what are they.
MP: Yeo Wan Ling
To ask the Minister for Manpower given that firms with fewer than 25 employees are exempted from the Workplace Fairness legislation, what recourse will employees of such firms have when faced with workplace discrimination.
MP: Edward Chia Bing Hui
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) what is the expected impact of the proposed Workplace Fairness legislation on employer-employee relationships; (b) how does the Government intend to mitigate any negative impact such as more litigious workplaces; and (c) how does the Government intend to mitigate the challenges that small firms may face such as lack of human resource capabilities.
MP: Liang Eng Hwa
To ask the Minister for Manpower besides Government legislation and guidelines on workplace fairness, what are the efforts needed to address the mindsets, attitudes, and perceptions of individuals, to root out discrimination and build fairer workplaces.
MP: Rachel Ong
To ask the Minister for Manpower how will the Government mitigate any negative impact of the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation, such as a more litigious workplace culture.
MP: Sharael Taha
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether he can provide an update on the progress of the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation; (b) when will the proposed legislation be implemented; (c) what are the possible negative impact of the proposed legislation; and (d) how will the Ministry manage any negative impact of the legislation.
MP: Sharael Taha
To ask the Minister for Manpower regarding the acts of discrimination that will be made clear in the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation (a) how will the Ministry educate and make it clear to the public on unacceptable acts of discrimination; and (b) how will the Ministry assist employers, especially the smaller firms with limited human resource practitioners, understand more about discriminatory practices.
MP: Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether there has been competing definitions of workplace discrimination between employers and employees raised during investigations conducted by the Ministry; and (b) how does the Ministry communicate what constitutes workplace discrimination to both employees and employers to help employees assess if they have a case and that employers are clear about their obligations.
MP: Yip Hon Weng
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) how will the Ministry ensure that the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation does not result in harmonious workplaces becoming more litigious; and (b) how will the proposed legislation (i) provide support to employees in navigating complex processes, such as claiming wages and for damage and (ii) protect employees who raise legitimate concerns and pursue claims against the company, from being victimised or adversely disadvantaged in their workplaces.
MP: Cheng Li Hui
To ask the Minister for Manpower in view of the proposed Workplace Fairness legislation (a) what is the Ministry’s impact assessment of the proposed legislation on employer-employee relationships; and (b) how will the Ministry seek to contain any negative impact, such as baseless legal actions or inadvertently creating a litigious workplace environment.
MP: Louis Ng Kok Kwang
To ask the Minister for Manpower whether the proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation will cover any discrimination that breastfeeding mothers face at work.
MP: He Ting Ru
To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether the Ministry intends to implement the recommendation of the UN Committee on the Right of Persons with Disabilities in its 5 October 2022 concluding observations on the initial report of Singapore and recognise denial of reasonable accommodations as a form of prohibited discrimination under the forthcoming Workplace Fairness Act; and (b) if not, why not.
1. The Ministry of Manpower has received a number of parliamentary questions on workplace fairness, including the upcoming legislation. I wish to thank parliamentary colleagues for their interest in this important issue.
2. The proposed legislation is a significant step forward in enhancing protection for workers from workplace discrimination, as well as strengthening fair employment practices and outcomes. It builds on progressive efforts by tripartite partners over the years to enhance workplace fairness through a range of education and enforcement efforts, and will send a strong signal against workplace discrimination. This is increasingly important in view of our ageing population, and our marriage and parenthood efforts. It must also assure locals that they are fairly considered for job opportunities. Employers will benefit from a more productive and engaged workforce, be better able to attract and retain talent, and can continue to access a complementary foreign workforce, contributing to stronger business outcomes. In this way, the legislation will benefit workers, employers, and society at large.
3. This was indeed the experience in the United Kingdom (UK). In a study trip led by myself and our tripartite partners, we learned that the UK’s Equality Act has had a positive impact on workplaces, and workers look to join organisations that operate fairly and treat all workers with respect. It is clearly in the interest of both employees and employers to create more trusting and harmonious workplaces by taking a strong stand against discrimination.
4. Thus, strengthening our framework for workplace fairness through legislation is the right thing to do, but it should be done with an eye on maintaining a workplace culture that is harmonious and not litigious. The steps have to be precise and clear leaving little scope for subjective interpretation. This has always been one of the key objectives of the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness as we formulated our recommendations. This is why we have tried to scope the recommendations more tightly and to the common and familiar forms of discrimination in the first instance. It is better to take a measured first step, let stakeholders adjust to the new rules, before reviewing if more needs to be done.
5. To Mr Seah Kian Peng’s question, over the years, the number of workplace discrimination complaints has fallen, but the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices, or TAFEP, and MOM still received about 315 complaints of discrimination a year, over the last five years. The most common types of discrimination complaints received were on nationality, age, sex, race and language. The Committee has proposed that legislation provide protection against the common and familiar forms of workplace discrimination, including these characteristics. The legislation will work in tandem with the existing Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practice, or TGFEP, to cover all forms of workplace discrimination.
6. I am heartened that Ms Rachel Ong, Mr Patrick Tay, Mr Edward Chia, Mr Sharael Taha, Mr Yip Hon Weng and Ms Cheng Li Hui share the Committee’s concern over the potential impact of legislation on workplace culture. Indeed, workplace harmony is an invaluable hallmark of Singapore’s employment landscape and needs to be protected too.
7. Therefore, the Committee’s recommendations focus on resolving disputes at source as much as possible, and emphasising mediation rather than litigation. To this end, the Committee recommends requiring employers to put in place grievance handling channels to facilitate amicable dispute resolution within the firm. If that fails, mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management will be the next step, with a focus on educating employers on fair employment practices, and mending the relationship between employer and employee where possible. Adjudication at the Employment Claims Tribunals is the last resort. To ensure that employees who experience discrimination feel assured to come forward to report it, there will also be protection against retaliation for making a complaint of discrimination.
8. As Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Mr Edward Chia, and Mr Sharael Taha have pointed out, small firms may lack the expertise or resources to fully implement the legislated requirements from the get-go. Therefore, the Committee recommends exempting small firms with fewer than 25 employees from the legislation for a start, with a view to lowering this exemption in five years.
9. The Government will work closely with partners, including TAFEP, and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to support small firms in their journey to ramp up capabilities. More details will be shared later. I encourage smaller firms to work with the partners as early as possible to strengthen their HR capabilities and practices, as well as nurture a fair and harmonious workplace culture. As mentioned earlier, this will contribute to stronger business outcomes.
10. Although exempted from the legislation at the start, small firms will continue to be subject to the TGFEP which prohibits all forms of workplace discrimination. Anyone who has faced any form of workplace discrimination can approach TAFEP for advice and assistance. Where there is a breach of the TGFEP, TAFEP will report the case to MOM for enforcement action.
11. We agree with Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Mr Sharael Taha that a coordinated and sustained effort by employers, employees, unions and the Government is required to educate all stakeholders and shape mindsets and attitudes. Mr Mohd Fahmi Bin Aliman also rightly points out that complaints of workplace discrimination may be borne out of different understandings of what constitutes discrimination. Today, TAFEP works closely with employer groups, HR partners and community groups to increase awareness of fair employment practices among employers. TAFEP also offers workshops and training tools to help employers implement fair employment practices in their organisations. With the impending legislation, tripartite partners will provide case illustrations of what may constitute discrimination and what may not, and regularly review and refresh these illustrations. Tripartite partners will also continue working closely to educate employers and workers, to help advance fair and progressive employment practices in Singapore.
12. To Mr Louis Ng’s question on protection for women who are breastfeeding, and Ms He Ting Ru’s question on reasonable accommodations, these are matters that the Committee is still considering.
13. To Mr Patrick Tay’s and Mr Sharael Taha’s questions on the timeline, the Committee targets to complete its deliberations and release its final report recommendations later this year. Thereafter, drafting of the legislation will commence and we aim for that to be ready in the second half of 2024.
14. Mr Speaker, rooting out discrimination is a whole-of-society effort. It requires knowledge, understanding, and ownership by employers, and the support of employees. The Workplace Fairness Legislation will significantly strengthen our stand against discrimination, while maintaining a workplace culture that is harmonious and not litigious.