Laws to prevent discrimination will give guidelines teeth: Minister

He says discrimination does happen to some workers, but it is not a festering problem

While workplace discrimination is not a festering problem in Singapore, it does happen to some workers, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said during a radio show yesterday.

Enacting laws to prevent it will give current anti-discrimination guidelines teeth, he added.

He noted that the move to translate the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) guidelines into legislation also reinforces the point that Singapore is transparent about workplace fairness.

The move was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally speech on Sunday. Tafep tackles discrimination among employers.

Dr Tan said during the MoneyFM 89.3 The Breakfast Huddle show: "As we pivot, as we have pulled back as a result of this pandemic, and as we now want to go out again, as we encourage (companies to) build back better, as we encourage industry transformation, as we encourage innovation and so on, we also want to make sure that we reinforce and we protect our Singaporean core."

PM Lee also mentioned tougher work permit qualifying rules to assuage Singaporeans' anxieties over job competition and ensure that the pass holders are of the right standard.

The Republic has stacked up well against Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in terms of protecting women and elderly workers against discrimination at workplaces, Dr Tan stressed.

"If you look at the span of the last couple of decades, the entire Tafep together with the Fair Consideration Framework and also the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management have all worked pretty well," he added.

He was referring to the framework that requires employers to consider Singaporean workers fairly and the mediation body for employment disputes.

The new anti-discrimination laws will cover gender, age, race, religion and disability. They will give enforcement agencies the power to sanction and penalise errant employers.

Some have raised concerns that such a law could have the unintended consequence of deterring companies from setting up shop here, but Dr Tan said he did not see this happening.

Most companies here do not engage in discriminatory practices, he pointed out, and the law would help nudge the small number of errant firms in the right direction.

Dr Tan disclosed that an independent workgroup, set up to look into job protection for delivery workers linked to online platforms, has started its work.

Based on their contracts, such workers are not considered employees and are thus not entitled to workmen compensation or employer Central Provident Fund contributions, among other things.

The workgroup is looking into how the contracts can provide some form of protection for such workers so that they have enough savings for retirement and are compensated when they get into an accident at work, said Dr Tan. "Actually, the nature of the contracts, they seem to be almost in some form of employment," he added.

He noted that there are 40,000 self-employed persons in Singapore who are mostly working as private-hire drivers, delivery riders or taxi drivers.

He disclosed that some form of union representation for these workers"could be forthcoming".

On the tightening of Employment Pass and S Pass criteria, Dr Tan said the move is aimed at bringing the best talent here.

"On that criteria that we put up, that is the minimum level that they come in, that is the entry level. And, of course, with the level of seniority, there would be an upward revision of those rates," he added.

He noted that for the country to continue to prosper, it will need to remain open, and efforts will be made to reskill and upskill Singaporean workers.

"At the end of the day, what we want to do is to be a highly innovative society, always be very nimble and receptive to change because that is the only constant," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2021, with the headline 'Laws to prevent discrimination will give guidelines teeth: Minister'. Subscribe