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Laws part of a multi-pronged approach to employment issues

  • The Straits Times (29 Sep 2020): New law needed to tackle discrimination, wrongful dismissal
  • The Straits Times (1 Oct 2020): S’pore would benefit from an anti-discrimination law
  • The Straits Times (10 Oct 2020): (Commentary) Speaking of equality – let’s extend that to workplace law

Laws part of a multi-pronged approach to employment issues - The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

  • We thank forum letter writers’ suggestions on addressing workplace discrimination.
  • Tripartite partners agree that it is critical to uphold the principle of fairness and eliminate discriminatory workplace practices.
  • In every case brought to our attention, it is only right to hear out both parties and examine the facts. On that basis, we clarified earlier that the employer Ms Melwani cited did not practise age discrimination. On the contrary, they had a healthy share of senior workers.
  • The Government does not preclude the use of legislation to enforce fair employment practices. For example, we introduced the Retirement Age Act in 1993 and the Retirement and Re-employment Act in 2012 to support seniors who wish to continue working. However, as highlighted by NTU Associate Professors Steven Ang and Dennis Ong, such laws can have unintended effects. For example, they may deter employers from hiring seniors in the first place.
  • In Singapore’s case, senior employment rate has increased from 57.2% in 2009 to 67.6% in 2019. Their unemployment rate has remained lower or comparable to the general workforce. In contrast, countries like the UK and US have age discrimination laws but lower senior employment rates.
  • Improvements in Singapore have come about also through expanding employment opportunities and skills development, which laws, on their own, cannot guarantee for any group of employees.
  • Except for cyclical downturns, Singapore’s labour market remained tight. The government supports senior employment. The Special Employment Credit provides employers with wage offsets while the Productivity Solutions Grant supports redesigning jobs to be more age-friendly. The Jobs Growth Incentive also spurs employers to expand local hiring, with support doubled for new hires aged 40 and above.
  • Overall, complaints of discrimination have fallen from about 17 per 100,000 workers in 2015 to an average of 6 per 100,000 workers in the past three years. While keeping an open mind on new laws to address workplace discrimination, we should also recognise the good outcomes achieved through a multi-pronged approach.
  • We invite NGOs to work with us so cases that come to their attention can be followed up in a timely manner. MOM will continue to monitor the situation and work with tripartite partners to ensure fairness at workplaces.

    Lee Chung Wei
    Divisional Director
    Workplace Policy and Strategy Division
    Ministry of Manpower

New law needed to tackle discrimination, wrongful dismissal - The Straits Times, 29 Sep 2020

  • The letter, "The little guy who failed to find recourse over termination" (Sept 24), highlights the prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace, and the limitations in recourse options available to employees experiencing discrimination and wrongful dismissal.
  • From September last year till this month, the Association of Women for Action and Research's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) received 172 calls, with over a third of them concerning some form of discrimination.
  • The women WHDA supported lost job opportunities and were denied promotions and reasonable accommodation. They faced mistrust and suspicion once they got pregnant, became mothers or reached a certain age. Discouragingly, many had experienced unfair termination, or contemplated resignation as a result of unfavourable work environments.
  • The Government has taken steps to get employers to act fairly.
  • Workers may approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep). A complaint triggers an investigation, during which Tafep speaks to the employer. Employers found to be in breach of guidelines are given warnings. Their foreign work pass privileges are curtailed. This, however, does not provide for a legal remedy for workers directly hit by the discrimination.
  • Many clients of WHDA explicitly declined to approach Tafep for fear of employer retaliation.
  • For cases that amount to wrongful dismissal, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) was set up to resolve claims through mediation, with compensation or reinstatement being possible outcomes. However, some WHDA clients have reported that their employers refuse to attend mediation, negotiate or settle despite evidence of discriminatory behaviour.
  • Neither Tafep nor TADM holds employers legally liable for discriminatory acts, or guarantees legal remedy for workers. The onus falls upon workers to look for a new job after being unfairly dismissed.
  • We urge the Government to enact a Workplace Equality Act that would provide legal remedies for workers experiencing discrimination.

Mamta Melwani
Senior Executive, Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory
Association of Women for Action and Research


S’pore would benefit from an anti-discrimination law - The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2020

  • The suggestion by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) to enact a Workplace Equality Act that would provide legal remedies for workers experiencing discrimination is a good one (New law needed to tackle discrimination, wrongful dismissal, Sept 29).
  • This is not the first time such a proposal has been made; the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) previously rejected it, stating that such a law may not on its own lead to superior employment outcomes (Legal and punitive measures in place to tackle workplace discrimination, April 28, 2018).
  • As Aware's letter makes clear, the current non-legislative approach is not enough to curb discriminatory employment practices. It is time to adopt strong legislative measures to protect workers in Singapore from unfair discrimination.
  • Other politicians have made similar suggestions in recent years. In 2018, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Saktiandi Supaat suggested granting legal powers to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to prosecute errant employers.
  • Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, during the debate on the President's Address recently, similarly proposed the enactment of an anti-discrimination law.
  • Also, the absence of such legislation sets Singapore behind international standards. Under international human rights law, Singapore is required to adopt appropriate legislative measures to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender and disability.
  • Singapore is also one of around 14 countries that have not ratified the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) 1958 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, out of 180 members of the ILO.
  • Ultimately, the enactment of such a law is crucial to deter discriminatory employment practices and bring Singapore in line with international standards.
  • More importantly, it will send an unequivocal signal of our society's commitment to the fundamental principles of meritocracy, justice and equality that have served our country well over the past half century.

Daryl Yang Wei Jian