Opening Address at Workplace Fairness Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue
Senior Minister of State Zaqy Mohamad, Marriot Tang Plaza Hotel
1. Good morning, everyone.
2. Thank you for taking the time to join us for this important discussion on strengthening our framework for workplace fairness.
3. At the heart of cultivating healthy and inclusive workplaces is ensuring that there is no place for discrimination at our workplaces, so that employees compete on a level playing field with fair access to opportunities to succeed and thrive.
4. As you know, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness has released its interim recommendations. These recommendations focus on how the new Workplace Fairness Legislation should complement the existing Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (also known as the TGFEP) to:
a. further entrench fair employment standards,
b. provide workers with better assurance of fair treatment and protection against discrimination at work, as well as
c. foster strong employer-employee relationship and deliver good workplace outcomes for employees.
5. This is a significant step for Singapore. We need to be careful how we develop, scope and enforce this new legislation to achieve overall positive outcomes for our workers, employers and society at large. To reflect this, the interim recommendations call for legislation to provide stronger protection against the common and familiar forms of workplace discrimination. This approach also supports Singapore’s key social and economic objectives.
Maintaining non-litigious workplace culture
6. The relationship between an employer and employee keeps businesses going. It affects employee motivation, retention, productivity, and overall organisational effectiveness. In Singapore, we have enjoyed industrial peace for many decades. To maintain this, strong tripartite relations and a focus on maintaining workplace harmony are necessary.
7. We resolve labour disputes through mediation where possible, to preserve a non-litigious culture at the workplace. This approach has worked well for Singapore and must continue with legislation. It is not in the interest of either the employee or the employer if the workplace becomes too rigid or litigious, as relationships could suffer. The Committee has therefore taken a practical approach with its recommendations.
8. How will the proposed legislation make a difference in Singapore's workplaces? For workers, those who experience discrimination that result in adverse employment outcomes would have access to remedies. They would also be protected from retaliation for reporting workplace discrimination and harassment.
9. Employers would also be required to put in place grievance handling mechanisms and protect the confidentiality of the identity of reporting persons. We hope to provide more assurance to workers that it is safe to come forward and report discriminatory behaviours in the workplace, and give confidence that their grievances will be managed well.
10. Most employers today are familiar with the TGFEP, and all of them would welcome clearer rules. The new legislation will give that clarity, in addition to allowing more proportionate actions to be taken, which would be calibrated to the severity of the breach. Presently, the TGFEP enforcement lever is the curtailment of work pass privileges. However, this may be deemed as excessive to some employers or inadequate to employees as there is no redress for them.
11. The new legislation will also take into consideration employers' practical needs - for example, allowing them to consider a protected characteristic in employment decisions if there is a genuine and reasonable job requirement.
12. The Committee has been gathering public feedback throughout the course of its deliberations, and we would like to express our appreciation to all who have contributed to shaping this milestone legislation.
13. One area in particular which we have received feedback on is defining discrimination in legislation. We would like to assure you that work and discussions on this are ongoing, and when legislation is enacted, what constitutes discrimination will be made clear.
14. While we agree that clarity in this area is important, we want to also emphasise that the TGFEP already set out the accepted standards of fair and merit-based employment. Legislative definitions aside, we hope that employees and employers will continue to uphold the overarching principles of fair and merit-based employment.
15. If there are still questions, individuals or HR can seek advice and assistance from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). TAFEP investigates all reports and will provide support to employees and employers in understanding and resolving the cases.
16. As we acknowledge the numerous, sometimes competing views on this pioneering legislative framework, it is important to keep in mind that this is but the next step in our continuous journey of strengthening workplace fairness. The Committee will take all feedback into consideration as it deliberates its final recommendations.
17. Legislating workplace fairness protections sends a clear signal that Singapore does not tolerate workplace discrimination. But we cannot legislate mindset change, which is ultimately what matters in creating a fairer workplace and society. Education remains a priority to correct stereotypes, shape mindsets and promote fair employment practices. TAFEP will continue to:
a. underscore the importance and benefits of workplace fairness through engagements with industry and community partners, and
b. conduct workshops to guide employers in implementing fair employment practices.
18. To sum up, implementing fair employment practices benefits employees, employers and society, and maximises our only natural resource – our people. Ensuring workplace fairness is a multi-stakeholder effort, and all need to play their part.
19. I look forward to hearing from all of you. Thank you.