Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination

We agree that without legislation on workplace discrimination, it is difficult to take employers to task (Tafep seen as toothless if not given legal powers to act, by Mr Edmund Khoo Kim Hock; April 6).

In our joint submissions to the Employment Act review, the Disabled People's Association (DPA) and Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) called for the enactment of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

Marginalised groups, including older persons, women and disabled persons, face various forms of discrimination in the workplace.

A 2016 survey found that 66 per cent of women in Singapore report experiencing unfair treatment in terms of career progression opportunities, remuneration, performance appraisal, and recruitment because of their gender.

Female employees also experience discrimination because of pregnancy and motherhood.

We have received calls from mothers who have had their positions downgraded or given fewer responsibilities at work upon returning from maternity leave - one even found a letter of termination on her desk upon returning.

In a to-be-published DPA study on workplace discrimination faced by people with disabilities, a job placement officer highlighted how companies and human resource managers found loopholes to ensure they were not accused of discrimination.

For example, companies which were not keen to hire persons with disabilities simply used the excuse of a mismatch in company culture.

Those who have been discriminated against have little recourse, since employers are under no legal duty not to discriminate.

We welcome Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo's recent clarification that dismissal on grounds other than poor performance, misconduct or redundancy is considered "wrongful dismissal" under the Employment Act (Parliament: Employment Claims Tribunals will hear 2 types of wrongful dismissal claims, says Josephine Teo; ST Online, March 19).

This seems that "wrongful dismissal" includes dismissal on the the grounds of discrimination.

The Act should be amended to explicitly spell this out.

Furthermore, damages paid to those wrongfully dismissed should not be limited to just the amount of salary in lieu of notice.

People and their families suffer much more than just the loss of salary when they are wrongfully dismissed.

They may suffer from mental distress, and may not find a job that pays as much.

Apart from strengthening protection against wrongful dismissals, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation would also protect against workplace discrimination at every stage, starting from recruitment.

It would also go towards fulfilling Singapore's obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Chong Ning Qian (Ms)

Research Executive

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2018, with the headline 'Stronger measures needed to prevent workplace discrimination'. Print Edition | Subscribe