'Approach on tackling unfair employment practices has worked'

Over the last five years, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) received fewer than 80 complaints each year against employers for discrimination over race, language or religion, said Dr Amy Khor.

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

Of the number of employers facing such complaints, nine were investigated and taken to task by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) 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," she said.

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 ability to hire foreigners was an effective measure against discrimination not based on nationality, 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, she said.

When there is evidence of employers failing to comply with guidelines released in 2007 on fair employment practices, Tafep will refer the cases to MOM for further investigation.

Most employers advised by Tafep over unfair employment practices, however, have responded positively, Dr Khor said. They have either taken down the job advertisements, refined their ads, or refined the human resource practices 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".

Complaints about discrimination related to race, language or religion are not the most prevalent, according to Tafep's annual reviews.

Rather, it is the lack of fair opportunities for Singaporeans that remains the No. 1 complaint received by Tafep, according to its annual reviews.

These cases typically make up about half the total number of complaints reported to Tafep each year, ranging in number from around 130 to 238 over the past three years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline ''Approach on tackling unfair employment practices has worked''. Print Edition | Subscribe