SMEs partner NTUC to fight workplace gender bias and harassment

About 280,000 SMEs employ around 70 per cent of the workforce in Singapore. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are partnering the labour union to stamp out gender bias and harassment in the workplace.

A series of memorandums of understanding to be inked this week will give 22 SMEs access to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) consultants and resources when they set up polices such as proper grievance handling procedures and disciplinary actions.

NTUC will also avail training materials, webinars, and a sample human resource (HR) policy manual that SMEs can use to improve gender equality and anti-harassment policies and practices in their firms.

The initiative is led by the union's women and family wing (U WAF), which aims to ramp up participation to another 60 SMEs by the end of the year, NTUC announced on Thursday (March 3) .

About 280,000 SMEs employ around 70 per cent of the workforce in Singapore.

It also released a survey by the NTUC and PAP women's wing, which found that 23 per cent, or nearly one-quarter, of respondents believe there is gender discrimination in the workplace.

The online survey, conducted over January and February this year, polled 3,097 workers.

One in 10 women surveyed said she has been passed over for promotion or career advancement, twice as many as the men in the poll.

Two in 10 women felt their companies favour candidates of the opposite sex when hiring, double that for men.

More women than men also said they felt treated unfairly but feared reporting it to their management.

The survey also found that bigger companies - with more than 200 workers - are more likely to have communicated a policy against workplace discrimination.

U WAF director Yeo Wan Ling said: "Not everybody is able to articulate what they feel. U WAF is training not only employers on what to do when someone reports (discrimination ) and general female grievances, we are also training employees to substantiate their feelings with an articulation of why they have a grievance."

Chief growth officer Jaslyn Chan of retailer IUIGA, which started having harassment protection practices five years ago after a male employee stalked a customer, said it "brushed up" its code on bullying and verbal abuses after going through a checklist provided by U WAF.

Even with more than half her 60-member workforce being women, Ms Chan said, "championing" the initiative sends a positive signal to her team.

TCM clinic chain Oriental Remedies Group signed the pledge despite having a predominantly female 40-strong staff.

Its chief executive Beatrice Liu sees it as a commitment to keep her employees safe from harassment, which could also stem from customers.

Said Ms Liu: "I used to work in an MNC (multinational company). There, we had very established guidelines. But coming into a smaller company now, the HRs I hire may not have very strong experience in this field. NTUC has good consultants to help us figure out what is a proper policy," she added.

Scanteak Singapore CEO Jamie Lim said the firm is making the pledge despite feeling that it has adequate measures in place.

Asked what would change after making the commitment, she said: "Largely nothing, because we have already done what we can. However, NTUC has pinned down in simple and understandable points on something very sensitive. We will put it up around our office to let employees know that this is something that we care about."

In 2020, Singapore embarked on a review of women's issues in a move towards greater gender equality.

The Government said last September it will study the views it has received on issues concerning women and will develop "concrete proposals" to be presented in a White Paper early this year.

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