Parliament: MPs call for more to be done about workplace sexual harassment

More can be done to educate employees on how to respond to workplace abuse and harassment, said Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi.
More can be done to educate employees on how to respond to workplace abuse and harassment, said Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - The far-reaching influence of the global #MeToo movement was evident in Parliament on Monday (March 5), with several MPs asking what more could be done about workplace harassment in Singapore.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi all touched on the issue during the debate on the spending plans of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Mr Ng, for example, noted that Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre saw 108 cases of workplace-related incidents in 2017, a rise from 91 cases in 2016 and 66 in 2015, he said.

"This suggests workplace harassment is a common problem that employees are increasingly voicing out against."

He called on MOM to intensify the promotion of the Tripartite Advisory on managing workplace harassment to employers, including setting up and maintaining a public database for employers to voluntarily declare that they have written policies to manage workplace harassment.

Ms Thanaletchimi noted too that it has become increasingly common for employees to be subjected to abuse or harassment, which could be physical, verbal and even via the Internet.

More can be done to educate employees on how to respond to workplace abuse and harassment, she said.

"Often, the psychological trauma is neglected, but the long-term effect to overall wellness is no less severe. For a start, an injury or harm as a result of workplace harassment must be treated with the same level of priority as an injury from a work-related accident."

She urged MOM to make the reporting of workplace abuse and harassment mandatory.

 
 
 

In response, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that some employees, having faced harassment, prefer to resolve the matter privately without involving the authorities, but would rather report the matter to their employers.

"Legislating mandatory reporting by employers, as suggested by Ms Thanaletchimi, will close off this avenue for such employees and discourage them from raising the matter with anyone. This is not helpful to them."

She said that between 2013 and 2017, an average of about 20 police reports involving sexual harassment or insults of modesty occurring at the workplace were filed annually.

These were thoroughly investigated and offenders taken to task, she said.

She added that the Government, together with tripartite partners, have taken a multi-pronged approach towards protecting people against workplace harassment.

This includes the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha), introduced in 2014.

Victims of harassment, including cyber harassment, should report such incidents to MOM or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), Mrs Teo said.

They can also seek civil remedies directly through the courts, or report serious cases to the police, she added.

Meanwhile, on the issue of the gender pay gap, Mrs Teo said there has been significant improvement in this area. She noted that the gap was 11.8 per cent in 2017, improving from 20 per cent a decade ago.

She said much of this can be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to exit the workforce for reasons such as childcare. If and when they return to the workforce, they also have to catch up with their male counterparts.