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Speech at Conference on Fair & Progressive Employment Practices

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower and Minister for Social and Family Development, Suntec Singapore Exhibition and Convention Centre

Ms Diana Chia, President, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) 
Mr Heng Chee How, Deputy-Secretary General NTUC and TAFEP Co-Chair 
Distinguished guests 
Ladies and Gentlemen 

“Changing Society for the Better through the Workplace” 


  1. Good morning. When you watched the video, I’m not sure what your reactions were.
  2. Various thoughts came to my mind. I would say that these are heartwarming stories, but are they necessarily unique and unfamiliar stories? Through the many years of our working lives, have we not encountered acts of kindness, fairness, justness, and progressivity at our workplaces?
  3. Many of us would recognise that we have had those experiences. We have worked in teams which were tremendously engaging, and we have had bosses whom we were prepared to go the extra mile for. I think we all want to be inspired at work.
  4. But as the world is evolving today, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, for better or worse. The unfortunate aspect of some social media platforms is that they tend to play up negative stories, causing some of us to react angrily rather than be inspired. And the tragedy of our information age is that some of these websites have every incentive to create such news, which may be half-truths or distortions, because they profit from viewership. Sensationalism, unfortunately, sells, amplify negative perceptions and consume precious man-hours which could have been better spent on following-up with genuine cases.
  5. I wonder whether continued exposure to these negative stories would create in us this sense that experiences at the workplace are generally negative. When such negative stories are amplified, regardless of whether they are true, I worry that some of us might feel this way over time. What can we do to prevent such an erosion of positive mindsets?
  6. This is important because, at the end of the day, I believe it is about mindsets and personal choice. The lenses through which we see the world will shape our experiences. Do we choose to look at the positive aspects of things, and that there are many positive stories out there? Or do we choose to look at the negative aspects and allow ourselves to be consumed by negative energies? 

    Mindset Change: The Workplace as a Building Block of Society
  7. Let me talk now about how that is related to fair and progressive employment practices. The starting point to embracing fair and progressive employment practices has to be about our mindsets and the way we choose to look at the workplace. We need to, first and foremost, avoid becoming cynical. Just as the family and the school are the fundamental building blocks of our society that shapes our values when we were young, the workplace shapes us as adults.
  8. Because we spend so much time at work, we have to ask ourselves – can we make our workplace an enriching place for ourselves and our colleagues, instead of merely a transactional place where we simply work for our wages? Can the workplace be a place where we forge friendships and enjoy work-life harmony? I believe we can when we find meaning in the work we do.
  9. Again, this brings us back to mindsets. If we begin to look at the workplace and our work experience not through transactional terms but as an opportunity and possibility to build something better, the workplace could then be a place where we can begin to build a better society, especially in the way we treat others. I think many of us have our fair share of positive and negative experiences. However, it is within our ability to choose how we want to create those positive experiences for our colleagues and ourselves.
  10. When we talk about fair and progressive workplace practices, we can look at them as things that strengthen your company’s competitive edge. But let’s not look at things simply in transactional terms. They do help to retain and attract people to join your company for intangible reasons and foster a positive work culture. It is a win-win effort when we endeavour to build our workplaces well, and I believe that it is possible to do. There are such companies in our midst but they are not as actively talked about on social media platforms for one. We need to begin to share these positive stories and change the way others look at the workplace – it is a building block of society. And when we have enough of such efforts, we will be able to change society for the better. 

    Go Beyond Mindset Change and Take Action
  11. Let’s look at the stories. We saw how Eugenie Tay has done well in Aviva Singapore. However, what we did not see in the video is that she actually considered giving up her job a few years ago when her twins came prematurely. She decided then to take unpaid leave for a year to take care of them. However, her employer chose to support her by providing flexible work arrangements. Likewise, she did her part to manage her responsibilities at her job and her performance was recognised. Her employer recognised her needs, valued her and chose not to let her commitments hold her back. In return, the company managed to retain an excellent employee.
  12. What about Aunty Roslyn? At Fish & Co, experiences within the staff are valued. At every outlet, there is at least one dependable, punctual and dedicated older staff who is responsible in helping and imparting knowledge to younger staff. Aunty Roslyn, a salmon specialist, has been with the company for 16 years.
  13. These are two examples that show mothers managing both family and work commitments and older workers being valued for their experience. There is a rising number of older workers amongst us, and I believe many of them view work as part of active aging. They are a huge potential to our workforce and it will take a collective effort from us all to engage and allow them to contribute meaningfully. By doing so, we will all stand to gain economically and socially.
  14. Working mothers and older workers are groups of people in our society which need us to look beyond their circumstances and treat them fairly. I believe it can be done. To be fair, progressive and engaging, these values cannot be inculcated by incentives alone. Again, it’s about mindsets. When we fully embrace such progressive mindsets, and translate them into action, I believe that employees will feel motivated and inspired. 

    Everyone Plays a Part
  15. These stories help us to understand that it is possible for companies to change lives, and change society, if everyone plays a part. This is not just the job of the HR practitioners; it is a leadership function and it starts from the top. Leaders set the tone and direction of what the company wants to do, and practitioners put it into processes and action. Every leader along the way must embrace this vision and translate it into action. Employees also have the capacity to effect change and should not shed the responsibility by blaming “the system” or “the culture of the company”. It is a question of whether we are prepared to make personal choices and embrace change.
  16. For those of us who have been beneficiaries of enlightened practices, we should reciprocate. Employers and employees both play a part and they must have a shared sense of responsibility. If both parties choose to look at work positively and are meaningfully engaged, we can build fair and progressive workplaces like these “Workplace Heroes” who are with us today. TAFEP recently partnered with Lianhe Zaobao to run a contest to recognise “Workplace Heroes”. I am glad to present these tokens of appreciation to individuals who have inspired others in the workplace, as well as employers and employees who have adopted fair employment practices, championed work-life harmony and progressive age management practices.
  17. TAFEP has also produced a coffee table book titled “Work Happy”. The book, produced in conjuction with SG50, compiles good work-life practices from 50 organisations across various industries. I encourage you to refer to these examples for inspiration on how to make work-life work for you and your company. 

  18. I would like to end off by saying that when we begin to pay attention to workplace experiences, it is an opportunity for us to change the society. Part of MOM’s vision is to create a great workplace and a great workforce. We should also try to work towards creating a great working experience. This brings us back to, first and foremost, changing our mindsets, then translating our renewed thoughts into action, before finally reinforcing the values of fairness and meritocracy in our society.
  19. Let us recognise all the good work done by employers and employees with us today, and celebrate their positive stories. Hopefully, these stories will inspire others. Let us also look at possibilities rather than constraints. It is our choice to decide on the kind of society we want to live in. With that, I wish you a good seminar.
  20. Thank you.