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Legal and punitive measures in place to tackle workplace discrimination

  • The Straits Times (6 April 2018): TAFEP seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act
  • The Straits Times (9 April 2018): Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination
  • The Straits Times (9 April 2018): Look into requests for job seekers' personal data

Legal and punitive measures in place to tackle workplace discrimination 

  1. We refer to the recent letters on tackling workplace discrimination (“TAFEP seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act”, by Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock, April 6; Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination, by the Association of Women for Action and Research, April 9; Look into requests for job seekers’ personal data, by Mr Ng Sung Nang, April 9).
  2. Singapore’s employment laws protect employees against wrongful dismissal on discriminatory grounds such as age, pregnancy or family responsibilities, and against discriminatory employment practices.
  3. Employees who feel that they have been wrongfully dismissed should report to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). MOM will require errant employers to compensate the wrongfully dismissed employees, beyond salaries payable in lieu of notice.
  4. In recent years, about 350 employees annually have sought MOM’s assistance for wrongful dismissal. In half of these cases, both parties agreed on the final settlement after mediation. One-third were withdrawn. The remaining cases were dismissed or resulted in compensation by the employers.
  5. Employers are also required to abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP). This includes asking only for information relevant to assessing applicants’ suitability for the job and selecting employees for retrenchment based on objective criteria. If a job seeker is unsure of the necessity of any information sought, he should immediately seek clarification from the employer, or approach MOM or TAFEP.
  6. MOM has curtailed the work pass privileges of employers that do not abide by the TGFEP. In recent years, MOM took enforcement action against an average of over 280 errant employers annually.
  7. On enacting specific anti-discrimination laws like those in other countries that make discrimination against various groups of workers unlawful, such laws do not on their own lead to superior employment outcomes.
  8. For example, the employment rates of older workers aged 55-64 in the United Kingdom and United States, which have such laws, are lower than that in Singapore.
    Specific anti-discrimination legislation may also have the unintended consequence of deterring businesses from hiring the very groups of workers we seek to protect, because they may be fearful of dismissing workers even with legitimate reasons.
  9. We urge the public to report instances of workplace discrimination to MOM or TAFEP so that actions can be taken against errant employers.

Roslyn Ten (Mrs)
General Manager
Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices

Christine Loh (Ms)
Director, Employment Standards Enforcement
Labour Relations and Workplaces Division
Ministry of Manpower


 TAFEP seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act
- The Straits Times, 6 April 2018
  1. Every employer must abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, or have their applications for Employment Passes subject to scrutiny (Firms adopting unfair employment practices will be placed on watchlist; March 29).
  2. This was according to a joint statement from Mrs Roslyn Ten of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) and Ms Christine Loh from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
  3. On the surface, this sounds like a positive step to address discriminatory action.
  4. However, apart from limited provisions protecting older workers or women from being fired because of their age or pregnancy, there is still no legislation concerning workplace discrimination.
  5. Our Government has long acknowledged that ageism is a problem in Singapore.
  6. However, it has maintained that introducing anti-discriminatory laws could increase business costs and undermine our economic competitiveness.
  7. Such an assertion does not appear to be accurate since the global competitiveness of nations with anti-discrimination laws, including the United States, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan, remains relatively stable.
  8. Both Tafep and MOM maintain that the prevalence of discriminatory actions against older workers remains low (Action taken in cases of workplace discrimination; March 12).
  9. As long as there are no specific anti-discrimination laws in place, older workers affected by forced layoffs will consider making official complaints a waste of time.
  10. This accounts for the decline in the number of age-related discrimination complaints reported in the past two years.
  11. In a 2013 survey by Tafep, 98 per cent of employers claimed to value highly the knowledge and skills of seniors, and 71 per cent of respondents claimed that older employees do not cost more to hire.
  12. In spite of such politically correct responses, nearly two-thirds of resident employees made redundant in 2015 were aged above 40.
  13. Based on my decades of experience in the corporate world, ageism is widely practised by many employers who consider older workers to be more costly to hire and tougher to train. They would rather invest in training and development programmes for younger staff.
  14. Without legal powers to take errant employers to task, Tafep is seen as a toothless organisation which merely advocates fairness in the workplace.
  15. Aggrieved employees will tell us that such a subdued approach is an exercise in futility.

Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination
- The Straits Times, 9 April 2018

  1. A 2016 survey found that 66 per cent of women in Singapore report experiencing unfair treatment in terms of career progression opportunities, remuneration, performance appraisal, and recruitment because of their gender.
  2. Female employees also experience discrimination because of pregnancy and motherhood.
  3. We have received calls from mothers who have had their positions downgraded or given fewer responsibilities at work upon returning from maternity leave - one even found a letter of termination on her desk upon returning.
  4. In a to-be-published DPA study on workplace discrimination faced by people with disabilities, a job placement officer highlighted how companies and human resource managers found loopholes to ensure they were not accused of discrimination.
  5. For example, companies which were not keen to hire persons with disabilities simply used the excuse of a mismatch in company culture.
  6. Those who have been discriminated against have little recourse, since employers are under no legal duty not to discriminate.
  7. We welcome Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo's recent clarification that dismissal on grounds other than poor performance, misconduct or redundancy is considered "wrongful dismissal" under the Employment Act (Parliament: Employment Claims Tribunals will hear 2 types of wrongful dismissal claims, says Josephine Teo; ST Online, March 19).
  8. This seems that "wrongful dismissal" includes dismissal on the the grounds of discrimination.
  9. The Act should be amended to explicitly spell this out.
  10. Furthermore, damages paid to those wrongfully dismissed should not be limited to just the amount of salary in lieu of notice.
  11. People and their families suffer much more than just the loss of salary when they are wrongfully dismissed.
  12. They may suffer from mental distress and may not find a job that pays as much.
  13. Apart from strengthening protection against wrongful dismissals, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation would also protect against workplace discrimination at every stage, starting from recruitment.
  14. It would also go towards fulfilling Singapore's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Look into requests for job seekers' personal data
- The Straits Times, 9 April 2018

  1. ​​Following Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock's letter (Tafep seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act; April 6), I would like to highlight two areas the Government and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) need to address.
  2. Almost all companies require job applicants to provide their identity card number, age or birthday, address and other such details.
  3. This holds potential problems for job applicants.
  4. First, by providing their age, job applicants, especially seniors, may be deprived of an interview opportunity.
  5. This shows we need regulation to protect older workers.
  6. Second, job applicants do not know how all this personal information is being handled by the companies or how secure it is in the firms' databases.
  7. I hope the Government can issue a law prohibiting companies from asking job applicants for unnecessary personal information until an offer for a job is made.