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Opening Remarks at Asia Pacific Employment Summit

Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Zaqy Mohamad, Marina One West Tower

Mr Patrick Tay, 
Assistant Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress.

Mr Keith Sonderling, 
Commissioner at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Distinguished guests.
Ladies and gentlemen.

1. A very good morning to all.

2. I am heartened to be invited to the inaugural Asia Pacific Employment Summit and I thank the International Employment Lawyer for organising this platform for us to exchange ideas on the best practices for managing international workforces against the backdrop of global developments and local legislative changes. 

3. We are at a pivotal juncture in international developments. Even as economies recover and rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, we see new and multiple headwinds ahead. 

a. Geopolitical and economic uncertainties remain, disrupting supply chains and changing business models.
b. New technologies continue to bring new disruptions, accelerating change and redesigning jobs.
c. These technologies present both opportunities and risks of displacement for workers. 

Supporting workers in braving headwinds

4. To help workers in Singapore stay relevant and thrive in an uncertain and volatile environment, we have put in place a slew of initiatives designed to nudge them towards opportunities.

a. During the COVID-19 crisis, we rolled out the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which brought together jobs and skills opportunities to support local jobseekers affected by the pandemic. 
b. Early this year, we announced that we will launch a new CareersFinders feature on the MyCareersFuture portal this month, which will provide personalised jobs and skills insights to improve job matching for Singaporeans. This digital tool will complement the career matching services offered by Workforce Singapore’s Careers Connect and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute. 
c. We have also worked with the Institute of Policy Studies to convene a Citizens’ Panel on Employment Resilience, to explore how Singaporeans can be better empowered to take charge of their career health.

5. Through all these different measures, we want to ensure that Singaporeans of different abilities continue to have a fair shot in seeking good job opportunities. 

6. Amidst these changes, there is a pressing need to provide assurance to our workers that they have fair access to opportunities at the workplace to succeed and thrive.

Providing workers assurance of a level playing field

7. Over the past two decades, Singapore’s tripartite partners have progressively stepped-up efforts to strengthen workplace fairness through education and enforcement of the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices or TGFEP. The TGFEP are guidelines that set out standards to help organisations adopt fair and merit-based employment practices.

8. Even though the incidence of workplace discrimination in Singapore has come down, each case of discrimination is one too many.

a. Earlier this year, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness released an interim report on its recommendations for the upcoming Workplace Fairness Legislation.

9. In the report, the Tripartite Committee articulated how workplace fairness legislation could:

a. further entrench fair employment standards, 
b. better assure workers of fair treatment and protection against discrimination at work, as well as 
c. foster strong employer ownership and deliver good workplace outcomes for employees. 

10. This is a significant step for Singapore. 

a. We need to be careful in how we design and enforce this new legislation to achieve overall positive outcomes for our workers, employers and society, whilst at the same time ensuring that harmonious workplaces are maintained. 
b. Thus, the Tripartite Committee has recommended that legislation provide stronger protection against the common and familiar forms of workplace discrimination in the first instance. This approach also supports Singapore’s key social and economic objectives.

11. The Workplace Fairness Legislation will work in concert with TGFEP to cover all forms of workplace discrimination.

12. Beyond legal protection against workplace discrimination and new remedies, employees will benefit from additional protections being proposed. They will have access to grievance handling mechanisms that must be put in place by their employers. They will also be protected from retaliation for reporting workplace discrimination and harassment and be assured that their identifies will be protected. 

a. These will 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 properly managed.

Preserving an open and conducive business environment

13. Employers stand to benefit from legislation as well. 

14. Legislation will help to preserve an open and conducive business environment, by encouraging a trusting work environment that will strengthen the relationship between employer and employees. Employers will benefit from a more productive and engaged workforce, better attract and retain talent, and continue to access a complementary foreign workforce, which will contribute to stronger business outcomes. 

15. The new legislation will allow for proportionate actions to be taken, that are calibrated to the severity of the breaches. 

a. It 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.

16. However, even as we strengthen protections against workplace discrimination, we want to preserve workplace harmony, maintain a non-litigious workplace and continue to build on the strengths of tripartism. 

17. The nature of relations in the workplace without a doubt affects employee motivation, retention, productivity, and overall organisational effectiveness. As such, it is important that we resolve labour disputes through mediation where possible. Adjudication should be the last resort.  This approach has worked well for Singapore and must continue with the new Workplace Fairness Legislation. 

Encouraging change through whole-of-society effort

18. The Workplace Fairness Legislation and TGFEP will work in concert to benefit employees, employers, and society – but enacting change on such a scale requires a whole-of-society effort. Everyone has a role to play.

19. Employees must practice patience, understanding, and compassion to differences encountered in the workplace.

20. Human resource teams must take on an active role in developing integrated HR management systems, new and responsive people talent management strategies, and fair employment frameworks, to support harmonious workplaces and allow businesses to make strategic moves it needs to grow and stay competitive.

21. The in-house legal teams will need to work closely with our Tripartite Partners – SNEF and NTUC – as well as entities such as the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, or TAFEP, to ensure alignment with the latest legislative requirements.

22. A strong working culture starts at the top. Business leaders must also set the tone for fair and harmonious workplaces by creating a positive work environment, resolving disputes internally, and encouraging a culture where employees feel comfortable to speak up against discrimination. 

Bolstering fair employment practices through education

23. Legislating workplace fairness protections sends a clear signal that discrimination has no place in the Singapore workplace. But mindset changes cannot simply be legislated, and mindset changes are what ultimately matters in creating and sustaining a fairer workplace and society.

24. Education remains a priority to correct stereotypes, shape mindsets, and promote fair employment practices. The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices or 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. 


25. We are at the cross-roads of change, and we all have a responsibility in creating a workplace culture that is safe and fair to all.

26. The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness has been gathering public feedback throughout the course of its deliberations and continues to take in views through platforms such as today’s Summit. 

27. I look forward to hearing your views on how legislation could benefit multinational workplaces and wish everyone an insightful time at the Asia Pacific Employment Summit.

28. Thank you.