Concerns raised over workplace harassment

The far-reaching influence of the global #MeToo movement was evident in Parliament yesterday, with several MPs raising concerns about workplace harassment and the gender pay gap.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi and Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan asked what more could be done about such harassment, during a debate on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) budget.

Mr Ng noted that the Association of Women for Action and Research's Sexual Assault Care Centre recorded 108 cases of workplace-related incidents last year, up from 91 cases in 2016 and 66 in 2015. "This suggests workplace harassment is a common problem that employees are increasingly voicing out against," he said.

Mr Tan suggested having clearer guidelines, adding: "As seen in recent debates around the globe, it can be sometimes ambiguous to perpetrators what constitutes sexual harassment."

Ms Thanaletchimi told Parliament that more needs to be done to educate employees on how to respond to workplace abuse and harassment and urged MOM to make the reporting of such behaviour mandatory.

In response, Second Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said some employees prefer to resolve harassment issues by reporting such incidents to their employers, rather than involving the authorities. Legislating mandatory reporting by employers would discourage staff from raising the matter with anyone, she added.

Mrs Teo said that between 2013 and last year, an average of about 20 police reports involving sexual harassment or insult of modesty occurring at the workplace were filed annually.

These were thoroughly investigated and offenders taken to task.

Mrs Teo also noted that there has been significant improvement in closing the gender pay gap. This gap was 11.8 per cent last year, a big step forward from 20 per cent a decade earlier.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) asked what could be done to further close the gap.

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

If the data was controlled for the number of years worked and occupation, the gap might be narrower, Mrs Teo noted, adding: "I think the best thing that we can do is go back to what will enable the women to make progress in their careers, which is not to exit, and the way in which to do it is to make flexible work arrangements available to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'Concerns raised over workplace harassment'. Print Edition | Subscribe