MOM to set up committee to examine if laws against workplace discrimination should be introduced
SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will set up a tripartite committee to look into whether legislation is the “best policy option” to deal with workplace discrimination, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said in Parliament on Monday (Jul 26).
Dr Tan was speaking in response to an adjournment motion by Member of Parliament Patrick Tay (PAP – Pioneer) on strengthening the Singaporean core in the workforce.
Mr Tay, the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), filed the motion on the back of recent debates in the House on Singapore’s foreign worker policies.
READ: FTAs don't give 'unfettered access' to Singapore's labour market; policies must benefit Singaporeans: Tan See Leng
While the Government has implemented several changes to foreign manpower policies over the years, Mr Tay said that many Singaporean PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) feel that the policy adjustments are insufficient.
“I can feel the fears and anxieties of our local PMEs, especially over job security. Besides ground sentiments of intense competition from the influx of foreign PMEs, I have a compendium of anecdotes of unfair employment practices by employers who favour hiring foreigners and discriminating against our locals,” he said.
Under the Fair Consideration Framework, employers are required to advertise job vacancies to locals before considering a foreigner, but Mr Tay said some PMEs feel that this is "mere window dressing" as firms may already have a foreign candidate in mind when they post their job advertisements.
Many PMEs also said there is currently no proper framework for the transfer of knowledge for roles which employers claim there are skills shortages, Mr Tay added.
“I am heartened that in my past 10 years of lobbying and advocating for a stronger Singaporean core, many measures have been put in place to support and protect our Singaporean PMEs and provide them with a fair and level playing field in the job market,” he told the House.
“That said, more needs to be done to strengthen the Singaporean core.”
MPS SUGGEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH DISCRIMINATION
Mr Tay suggested that MOM review the existing legal and policy framework and give the Tripartite Alliance on Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) more teeth through legislation, expanding the powers of investigation, enforcement and punishment against those who discriminate at workplaces.
He also said that the process for reviewing employment pass (EP) applications should move beyond looking at an individual applicant’s educational qualification and salary to take into account the company’s hiring practices.
Mr Tay proposed a point system that factors in whether the employer has been investing in hiring and developing local workers, as well as the firm’s diversity of nationalities. The point system will then be used to evaluate and approve the EP application, he said.
“Finally, we need to ensure that locals have fair access to PME roles and progression opportunities to improve localisation of jobs in high growth sectors,” he said.
“We must ensure concerted, structured, institutionalised and mandatory skills and knowledge transfer from these foreign PMEs to our local PMEs within a stipulated and agreed time frame in the spirit of complementarity.”
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (PAP-Bishan-Toa Payoh) and Mr Louis Ng (PAP-Nee Soon) also spoke about instances of racial and age discrimination, as well as unfairness towards women in the workplace.
Mr Saktiandi, a board member of TAFEP, proposed that "concrete targets" be set for companies to localise their workforce and that TAFEP be given "the powers to wield a bigger stick".
"Some employees are so intoxicated by the discriminatory practices that they are inured to the penalties. We need to go beyond fining them or temporarily suspending work passes," he said.
Mr Ng said that although there are guidelines against discrimination, these are a "weak deterrence and are routinely flouted". He asked that the guidelines on fair employment be legislated.
"Legislating the guidelines will send a loud and clear message to employers that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated. It will be illegal, and unfair practices will be punished by law," he said.
In response, Dr Tan said MOM will ensure that Singaporeans are considered fairly for employment opportunities, noting that penalties for all forms of workplace discrimination were recently stiffened.
He added: “However, I want to also reiterate the importance of staying and remaining open. The combination of skilled locals and a diversity of foreign expertise is a key competitive advantage for us in drawing many international companies here, creating more good jobs for Singaporeans.”
The Manpower Minister said that beyond nationality-based discrimination, Singapore must also tackle other types of discrimination, including on grounds of sex, age, race, religion and disabilities.
The ministry is not closed to suggestions to legislating against discriminatory practices, he said, stressing that laws alone do not guarantee better employment outcomes.
“On the one hand, legislation will provide a clear premise to publicise the names of companies found to have breached the law,” Dr Tan said.
“But on the other hand, we should also be mindful of the unintended consequences.”
BALANCED SUITE OF MEASURES NEEDED
For example, if the legal framework is "overly onerous", it will deter employers from doing business in Singapore, he said.
The ministry will therefore set up a tripartite committee to examine if legislation is the best way forward.
“Government, union and employer representatives will deliberate thoroughly whether legislation should be pursued, taking into consideration potential ramifications,” said Dr Tan.
He added that Singapore’s employment outcomes are better than in some countries that have long had legislation to punish discrimination.
“Legislation has its merits, it's not a panacea and it's not a silver bullet. We need a balanced suite of measures to not be hampered by an overly rigid framework that hurts all parties involved,” said Dr Tan.
“Only then can we continue to give Singaporeans the best chance to get ahead and to secure their livelihoods.”