Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech sought to assuage Singaporeans' anxieties over job competition, and whether Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders are of the right standard. But it was not just the nuts and bolts of policies that he spoke of - such as tightening the criteria for EPs and S Passes, or giving the local fair employment watchdog more legal teeth to tackle workplace discrimination. It was also about the give-and-take needed in social and inter-racial interactions. Foreigners here must accept the ethos and norms of society, while Singaporeans should be open to living with and accepting others who are not exactly like them.
Enshrining the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) guidelines into law is also a major move. But the creation of a tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination shows that the preference is still to first settle disputes informally and privately through conciliation and mediation. This does two things: solve a longstanding problem for Tafep - namely its lack of legal powers to take errant employers to task; and settling disputes in an amicable and practical fashion, with legal redress only as a final recourse. This is modelled after how another class of disputes - over salaries or wrongful dismissals - is currently dealt with under Employment Claims Tribunals.