Legal, punitive measures in place to tackle workplace discrimination

We refer to the recent letters on tackling workplace discrimination (Tafep seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act, by Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock, April 6; Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination, by the Association of Women for Action and Research, April 9; Look into requests for job seekers' personal data, by Mr Ng Sung Nang, April 9).

Singapore's employment laws protect employees against wrongful dismissal on discriminatory grounds such as age, pregnancy or family responsibilities, and against discriminatory employment practices.

Employees who feel that they have been wrongfully dismissed should report to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The MOM will require errant employers to compensate the wrongfully dismissed employees, beyond salaries payable in lieu of notice.

In recent years, about 350 employees annually have sought the MOM's assistance for wrongful dismissal.

In half of these cases, both parties agreed on the final settlement after mediation. One-third were withdrawn. The remaining cases were dismissed or resulted in compensation by the employers.

Employers are also required to abide by the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP).

This includes asking only for information relevant to assessing applicants' suitability for the job and selecting employees for retrenchment based on objective criteria.

If a job seeker is unsure of the necessity of any information sought, he should immediately seek clarification from the employer, or approach the MOM or Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep).

The MOM has curtailed the work pass privileges of employers that do not abide by TGFEP. In recent years, the MOM took enforcement action against an average of 280 errant employers annually.

On enacting specific anti-discrimination laws like those in other countries that make discrimination against various groups of workers unlawful, such laws do not, on their own, lead to superior employment outcomes.

For example, the employment rates of older workers aged 55-64 in the United Kingdom and United States, which have such laws, are lower than those in Singapore.

Specific anti-discrimination legislation may also have the unintended consequence of deterring businesses from hiring the very groups of workers we seek to protect, because they may be fearful of dismissing workers, even with legitimate reasons.

We urge the public to report instances of workplace discrimination to the MOM or Tafep for action to be taken against errant employers.

Roslyn Ten (Mrs)
General Manager
Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices

Christine Loh (Ms)
Director, Employment Standards Enforcement
Labour Relations and Workplaces Division
Ministry of Manpower

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2018, with the headline 'Legal, punitive measures in place to tackle workplace discrimination'. Print Edition | Subscribe