Ambivalent is the word that comes to mind when I first read about the Government’s acceptance of the final set of recommendations by the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness early last month.
While I applaud our nation’s move towards fostering a more harmonious and equitable work environment, I could not help but question Singapore’s prevalence of workplace discrimination.
Being the conservative and more tactful people that we are, the likelihood of any worker facing outright blatant discrimination is probably far and few between.
This begs the question of those who claim to have been discriminated against. Could it be the case of oversensitivity, or our subconscious need to find an external reason for not securing a role or promotion rather than looking at ourselves inward?
The State of Workplace Fairness
According to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) 2022 Fair Employment Practices Survey of some 3,600 residents in the labour force, 23.8 per cent of job applicants claimed to have experienced discrimination during their job search.
This number has declined over the last few years – from 42.7 per cent in 2018 to 25.8 per cent in 2021.
Similarly, the proportion of resident employees who claimed to have experienced discrimination also fell, from 24.1 per cent in 2018 to 8.2 per cent in 2022.
This was even lower than the European Union average of 11 per cent.
So, with this downward trend of discriminatory complaints, why then are we pushing for legislation of fairness in the workplace?
Low Does Not Mean No Discrimination
In July 2023, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon shared in parliament that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and MOM still receive over 300 discrimination complaints yearly.
The common complaints were about nationality, age, sex, race and language.
Once enacted, the workplace fairness legislation will prohibit discrimination against these five ‘protected characteristics’ and prejudice against marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, religion, disability and mental health conditions.
Complaints Still Hold Merit
Even though I questioned the validity of these discrimination complaints earlier, Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management @ National Trades Union Congress (TADM@NTUC) Master Consultant Charles Ng shared that many of the complaints they receive are valid.
He said: “From our experience, there are still more genuine than frivolous cases. Our team currently handles more discrimination cases, which are end-employment rather than in-employment.”
He added that cases lodged for mediation at TADM@NTUC include pregnancy, age and disability issues, with more grievous cases being referred to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) for further investigations.
Legislation Will Leave Less Room for Doubt
Once the legislation is passed, employers and employees will be clearer on the expectations at the workplace, ensuring fair treatment, safe conditions, and equitable opportunities.
Employers will better understand the do’s and don’ts when advertising for both local and work pass positions, while employees can be assured that they will be assessed based on fair and merit-based employment.
A Fairer Tomorrow
Even though discrimination cases are declining, legislating workplace fairness is an investment in our workers’ future.
It empowers employees, ensures equal opportunities, and safeguards their well-being, creating a foundation for career growth and personal fulfilment.
Fair employers will also benefit from a more productive and engaged workforce. A more harmonious workplace will be better able to attract and retain talent, thus resulting in stronger business outcomes.
As such, the legislation not only secures our present – it also paves the way for a brighter and more promising tomorrow.