Parliament: Complaints of discrimination over race, language or religion 'fairly stable'

The number of complaints against employers for discrimination that is based on race, language or religion has remained fairly stable for the last few years, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor.
The number of complaints against employers for discrimination that is based on race, language or religion has remained fairly stable for the last few years, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Over the last five years, theTripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) received fewer than 80 complaints each year against employers for discrimination that is based on race, language or religion, said Member of Parliament Amy Khor.

The Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health told Parliament on Monday that the number for such complaints have remained fairly stable.

For instance, nine employers were investigated and taken to task by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) over such complaints last year.

"Out of the nine companies, one received a stern warning, which means they will be on our watch list, and eight had their work pass privileges curtailed," said Dr Khor.

These work pass restrictions last for at least six months.

Dr Khor was responding to questions from MPs Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) on discrimination in the workplace.

When asked by Mr Zaqy whether restricting a company's abilities to hire foreigners was an effective measure, Dr Khor explained that most bosses employ a number of foreigners, so "curtailing work pass privileges would actually be very serious for them".

Today, employees who feel discriminated against can approach Tafep.

Dr Khor said when there is evidence of employers failing to comply with guidelines on fair employment practices - released in 2007 - Tafep will refer the cases to MOM for investigation.

Tafep focuses on promoting the right mindset among employers as well as working with them to improve their practices.

Most employers advised by Tafep over unfair employment practices, however, have responded positively, she added. They have either taken down the job advertisements, refined their job ads, or refined their human resource practices that were deemed discriminatory.

Only "a small minority" were referred to the Ministry for enforcement, she said adding that this shows that "our current approach has worked well".

Dr Khor also responded to a question from Mr Zainal about the outcome of two recent cases of discrimination publicised widely on social media - one about a Chinese Muslim woman rejected from a job and another about a foreign national showing favouritism in hiring.

She said in the first case involving Ms Heidi Heng, the company had said the person who had allegedly discriminated against her was not a member of staff and a police report has been made.

In the second case, Dr Khor said the matter is currently being looked into.

Complaints about discrimination related to race, language or religion are not the most prevalent. Rather it is the lack of fair opportunities for Singaporeans that remain the number one complaint received by Tafep.

These cases typically make up about half the total number of complaints reported to Tafep each year, according to Tafep's annual reviews, which show that the number ranged from 130 to 238 over the past three years.