Speech at TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award Presentation Ceremony 2014
Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower, Pan Pacific Singapore
Mr Bob Tan, Vice-President, Singapore National Employers Federation, and TAFEP Co-Chair
Mr Heng Chee How, Deputy Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress, and TAFEP Co-Chair
Ladies and gentlemen
- I am happy to join you at this year’s TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award ceremony. This event is important for a number of reasons. It seeks to recognise those who have made a difference to their employees. I hope that your examples would also show other employers that this is possible. Great work-life practices, as I shared during MOM’s Work Plan Seminar, is something I feel particularly strongly about. We know the impact on us when we have enlightened bosses, and that’s when we feel that we’re prepared to go the extra mile. I think many of us would have had that experience before. But I hope that in the same way you would be able to replicate that to your staff, because that is really the key to long-term employee retention in any organisation.
- Before we start, I wonder how many of you have caught TAFEP’s radio advertisement Fair@Work? It has done really well. It won the hearts of the judges and importantly, the votes of the public to win the Listeners’ Choice Award in Mediacorp’s The Laurels 2014. Let’s listen to it
- It shows very clearly that fair and non-discriminatory employment practices are important. And that is why the TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award is important, because it recognises employers who have done well in championing fair and inclusive employment practices in Singapore. This is a mindset that we would like to see all our employers in Singapore embrace - not just to say, but to do it and manifest it in the way you operate on a day-to-day basis. We all know that Singapore is very much part of that globalisation process, and Singapore’s evolving demographic profile has resulted in a very diverse workforce. Employers must learn how to manage workers of different genders, ages, races, religions and nationalities.
- As you all know, in 2006, tripartite partners came together to set up TAFEP to promote fair employment practices –to educate and persuade employers to recruit employees on the basis of merit, treat them fairly, and reward them based on ability, performance, contributions and experience. Some would feel that we need to take harder measures. I think in certain instances, regulations and laws can be put in place. It becomes a bit tricky when you want to use these things to change mindsets. Once you go down the legal route, it becomes very hard-line. We believe that (moral suasion) will be a mainstay of TAFEP’s approach.
- Eliminating bias at the workplace is a core element of TAFEP’s mission. Individuals cannot realise their full potential and employers cannot achieve organisational excellence unless employers assess individuals based on their skills and abilities, and not on less relevant factors.
- I am glad to see the progress made by TAFEP in this area. There has been a steady increase in the number of employers who have committed to implementing fair employment practices over the years, from only around 200 pledge signers in 2006 to over 2,600 in 2013. The number of participants who attended training workshops and seminars organised by TAFEP has also more than doubled from 2,725 in 2008 to 5,752 in 2013.
Recognising Exemplary Employers Who Champion Fair Employment Practices
- Today, we recognise and honour a very special group of employers who have demonstrated leading practices in fair employment. They are role models whom their peers should emulate.
- A very common refrain I hear is that only the bigger firms have the capacity and ability to adopt fair and inclusive employment practices. Well, you would be glad to know that there has been an increase in the number of SME submissions for the TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award. This year, TAFEP received 36 submissions from SMEs, nearly 1.5 times more compared to the 15 submissions received in 2012, when the Award was last held. So this is very encouraging, and I hope to see more SME employers come on board. This is important because over 90% of all enterprises in Singapore are SMEs, and 7 in 10 workers here work in SMEs. Can you imagine the difference they make to Singaporeans, if SMEs are able to put in place these practices?
- Some of these companies had been nominated by the employees of the SMEs themselves. I see this as an encouraging signal that not only the bigger companies can adopt fair employment practices, but SMEs can do it too. If you treat your employees fairly and with respect, I can tell you that they will in turn go the extra mile for you. The issue is, do we have faith that that is going to happen? Climate and environment do not just happen like that, they come by design, by nurturing, and certainly from the bosses who set the example. Hopefully you will remember that, and with your present capacity to make a difference, you will begin to think about how that is being translated to your present workplace as well.
- To create effective and meaningful change, we need more employers of all sizes to implement fair and progressive employment practices. This will not only be better for workers themselves, but I think it will in turn be better for the companies as well. We must have faith that it is a virtuous cycle. I believe that it is resoundingly so.
Helping Employers Put In Place Fair and Progressive Employment Practices
- While it should be common sense and common decency to many, there will be those who just haven’t been conscious of fair and progressive employment practices, much less how to put in place these practices. For some of them, even if they are aware of these practices, such practices may not rank high on their list of priorities. We do hope employers can join this process. Long-term sustainability and success sometimes involve putting in effort in these long-term measures that will make a difference for your companies. If you are unsure about how to get started, I do encourage you to contact TAFEP for advice and assistance. We look forward to providing you with access to an extensive range of resources, including toolkits, research reports, guides and training workshops. It’s not going to solve everything, but it will help you kick-start the process.
- One of the best ways to learn is to look at the examples of those who have walked the talk.
- Let me share with you the story of Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium, one of our award winners today. Holiday Inn Singapore Atrium went the extra mile to welcome and support people with disabilities. For instance, before someone with disabilities starts work at the hotel, they and their families are invited to attend site visits to better understand the work environment and job responsibilities. To provide further support, employees with disabilities are also assigned buddies during their customised orientation programmes. Holiday Inn also believes in recognising the strengths of their employees and providing support for them to grow. One such employee is Mr Thng Kai Bin1, who joined Holiday Inn as a trainee in 2011 and was subsequently offered a permanent position as a Public Area Attendant in 2013. As a Public Area Attendant, Kai Bin does cleaning in public areas and was not expected to interact much with guests. Noting his outgoing and friendly nature, the management decided to transfer him to the frontline as a doorman a few months later. Kai Bin has been performing well in his new role and is very happy to have been given this opportunity. He enjoys working at Holiday Inn where the staff is treated like one big extended family. Such examples of inclusiveness are truly worth celebrating.
- We hear of these stories from time to time. This is a great story in particular; I think many of us will feel moved by it. Don’t just be moved by it - do something. I was at the SG Enable Awards a couple of days ago, and it struck me that there are no government agencies that won the award. Indeed, at the Ministry of Manpower, we try to advocate these practices. So I hope that the example of Holiday Inn would inspire us to go that extra step to begin to put in place some of these practices.
- I would also take this opportunity to tell you about Fedex Express Singapore, another winner. Fedex believes in being inclusive at all levels in the organisation. The Managing Director (MD) Advisory Board of Fedex sees frontline staff such as couriers being involved in policy making and strategic decisions. This is based on the belief that the frontline staff have valuable insights to share as they have the most direct contact with customers. In fact, many valuable suggestions have come from the couriers. One example is the use of a bar-coding system for couriers to draw their equipment before they go out for deliveries, which reduced equipment collection time by half. This was suggested by Mr Derrick Teng, who started his career as a courier, and has since risen through the ranks to become a senior operations manager. Derrick is a prime example of how Fedex values internal talent and how being inclusive is pervasive at all levels. When individuals begin to see their suggestions being listened to, and input being put into practice, they will begin to feel that it’s worth their while to think harder, to work harder at it, to come up with a list of suggestions, rather than pay lip service. I suspect it applies the same to governance as well – we encourage feedback, we need to listen, and we need to put it into practice and translate it to reality as well.
- What this shows is that, to create fair and inclusive workplaces, everyone has a role to play. Relying only on the CEO or the HR department will not work. What we need most is to create a climate for that buy-in at every level of the organisation, a shared mindset that each and every individual should be treated fairly, without prejudice. Everyone must be prepared to play their part to embrace fair and merit-based employment practices.
Progressive Employment Practices are key to businesses’ success
- Besides fair and merit-based employment practices, businesses also need to consider how to lead and engage better and to also adopt other progressive employment practices. If the hearts and minds of your employees are with you, frankly what is there that you cannot do? I think we all know that, but somehow, I am not sure how many of us actually put in enough man-hours to back this up by action. We are pretty good at sending people for courses for professional knowledge, but to really nurture and grow your leaders, you (need to) spend time coaching, spend time giving feedback. Many of us don’t spend time doing that, but through that process we help individuals to grow. If we are able to do this well, I think it has an impact certainly on productivity, as well as retention and recruitment. Even if it is not for altruistic reasons, I think there are very practical reasons to do it - but I think this is the most important reason to do it: it is the right thing to do for our people.
- In a tight labour market, organisations which struggle to fill their vacancies need to ask themselves some searching questions. Can the organisation make use of better progressive employment practices to better attract workers from different segments? Can employers attract back-to-work mothers by putting in place more flexible work arrangements to enable them to balance their family and career demands? Can employers put in place effective age management practices to better attract and retain experienced and skilled older workers? Every organisation needs to consider these questions seriously. The labour market will remain tight in the foreseeable future, so I do urge you, again for practical reasons, to begin to look at these things.
- If I may emphasise this - putting in place progressive employment practices should not be treated as an after-thought or a “co-curricular activity”, or CCA, to be run by the HR department in their spare time. It is something that everyone needs to embrace fully, not just in your spare time. These practices should be, and have to be, part of the core values as they reflect the way your company regards your people. It requires dedicated effort and commitment from all members of the organisation.
Building on TAFEP’s progress
- TAFEP’s experience has shown that promotion and education is an effective tool in improving workplaces. With that in mind, the tripartite partners have agreed to expand TAFEP’s mandate to include the promotion of progressive employment practices such as work-life harmony and age management. Since 1st April this year, TAFEP has been expanded as the “Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices”. TAFEP’s new name reflects its expanded focus into progressive employment practices.
- TAFEP will also help employers to understand and comply with basic employment standards mandated by Singapore’s employment laws. Greater awareness of these laws is a necessary first step towards better working conditions for all employees, and towards becoming a progressive employer.
- The expansion of TAFEP’s role is exciting and is only possible because of the strong relationships, and the strong trust and confidence we have built up between employers, unions and government. TAFEP will continue to build upon the bedrock of tripartite relationships to improve employment practices in Singapore.
- I would like to congratulate all our winners for their dedicated efforts in embracing fair employment practices. We are very heartened, and all of us are inspired by your efforts in championing fair employment, and hope that other employers will follow your example. For those who did not win the Award this year, do not be discouraged. I hope that you will realise that just the sheer process of actually putting in place these practices would have done a tremendous amount of good for your organisation, and made this journey a rewarding one. Many of you didn’t do this with the award in mind, but you did this because it’s something you believe in, and I hope you would have realised right now that it has a very real, emotive impact on your staff as well.
- Lastly, I would like to ask all of you to continue to champion fair employment, and going forward, progressive employment practices as well. For all of you who have been doing it, keep up the good work! For many of you who have been thinking about it, I do encourage you to take the first step, and a great first step is to really look at the examples that have been shared about many of the winners, and just emulate what they are doing.
- With that, thank you very much.
Kai Bin is a 22 year old Singaporean, mildly intellectually disabled and has been employed by Holiday inn since 2011.