Disclosure of last-drawn pay and ageism hot topics at Reach discrimination dialogue

A participant said he was given a lower rank than the original role after he disclosed his previous salary. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Asking job applicants to disclose their last-drawn salary is "very unfair" as it could give employers an advantage in offering a lower salary to the prospective employee than they otherwise would.

This point was raised during a panel discussion on Tuesday (March 22), during which members of the public spoke candidly about their experiences with discrimination, particularly on ageism and salaries.

Organised by government feedback arm Reach, the dialogue was held under Chatham House rules, which allow reporting of what was said at the event, but not who said it to foster candour and confidentiality.

The panellists included Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Koh Poh Koon; National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay; Ms Kohe Hasan, a Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) council member and lawyer; and Mr Edwin Ng, a businessman and SNEF honorary secretary.

The virtual discussion was moderated by Mr Alvin Goh, executive director of the Singapore Human Resource Institute.

A participant suggested that rules discouraging the disclosure of last-drawn salary should be included in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

He said the practice was "very unfair" as it could give employers reason to offer a lower salary than they otherwise would, based on the skills of the applicant - a point echoed by other attendees.

He added that he was placed in a lower rank than what he was originally hired for after he disclosed his previous salary, which was $3,000 lower.

In response, a panellist said guidelines surrounding such disclosure could include making it clear that the last-drawn salary should not be discussed until after the applicant has been interviewed and offered a job.

The man demurred, saying that such disclosures remain unnecessary as employers can use the candidate's skills and expected salary to decide on an offer.

Several participants also raised concerns about the job prospects for those aged above 40.

In response, another panellist said that Singapore's ageing population means that employers will have to deal with hiring older workers to support their operations.

"In the meantime, we continue to support workers like yourselves through various schemes (such as) the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways (programme) to... have some work trial so that employers can see that you actually have skills that merit their consideration," the panellist added.

The dialogue comes as the Ministry of Manpower released the results of its 2021 survey on fair employment practices on Wednesday.

Noteworthy findings include a drastic decline in discrimination related to pregnancy status, but ageism remains as the most common form of discrimination.

Four in five respondents who experienced discrimination said they stayed silent, with the most cited reason being the fear of being marginalised at work.

Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of Singapore and Malaysia at recruitment firm Randstad, said the high proportion of people remaining silent could be due to limited proof and a desire to stay on and not be seen as a troublemaker.

"They sit back because they may not feel prepared for the consequences of their efforts, nor guarantee an outcome that leaves them in a better place," she added.

As for the decline in discrimination reported by pregnant women, Ms Dass chalked it down to the work of the Government sending a strong message against such discrimination, as well as a mindset shift away from the idea that pregnant women are less dedicated or productive.

"A lot of the last two to three years of hiring have been remote due to Covid-19 - there's less assessment of the personal circumstances around the person and more leeway to manage work-life balance," she said, adding that the talent crunch has made companies less picky and discriminatory.

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