More measures needed to ensure S'porean workers are treated fairly: MPs

The MPs called for more assertive action to combat discrimination based on factors such as nationality and race. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Further steps need to be taken to strengthen the Singaporean core in the workforce and to ensure fairness in hiring, said MPs on Monday (July 26), reiterating calls for legislation where needed.

Labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer), Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) said there must be more assertive action to combat discrimination based on nationality, race, age and gender, among other factors.

In a speech in Parliament, Mr Tay suggested that fair hiring practices can be enhanced by improving companies' human resources standards, while strengthening enforcement and imposing stiffer penalties on errant companies with discriminatory hiring practices.

He added that the Ministry of Manpower should review the existing legal and policy framework and give the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) more teeth by legislating expanded powers of investigation, enforcement and punishment against companies and employers.

"This will then send a clear message against workplace discrimination and eradicate unfair hiring practices, whether it's with respect to age, gender, marital status, nationality, disability, race, religion, or sexual orientation," he said.

Mr Saktiandi agreed that Tafep should be given the powers to wield a bigger stick.

"I would go as far as to suggest Tafep and the Ministry of Manpower form a dedicated enforcement unit to focus efforts on helping companies to localise, and to identify and penalise recalcitrant offenders that are guilty of poor corporate citizenship," he said.

Mr Ng, who spoke on discrimination against women in the workplace, also called for Tafep to be backed by legislation.

"Legislating the guidelines will send a loud and clear message to employers that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated. It will be illegal, and unfair practices will be punished by law," he said.

Besides legislation, Mr Tay, who is also a National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general, suggested that the application review process for employment passes can be enhanced to look beyond qualifications and include considerations such as whether the employer has been investing in hiring and developing local workers.

"We must further develop our local workforce's capabilities and protect our locals from being unfairly discriminated against," he said.

"Our local PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) are unhappy when many of the roles which they can undertake and do are instead being done by foreign PMEs. It is important to recognise the role that foreign manpower plays, which is to complement and enhance the capabilities of the local workforce and not to replace it."

There must also be a concerted, structured and mandatory process of skills and knowledge transfer from foreign talent to local workers within an agreed timeframe, he said.

Mr Saktiandi, in his speech, suggested a goal of transferring skills to locals in three to five years as part of concrete targets to localise the workforce.

Besides discrimination based on nationality, he added that racism and stereotyping persist in the workplace.

He cited an Institute of Policy Studies and study in 2019 that said almost 60 per cent of Malays and 56 per cent of Indians perceived discriminatory treatment at work. This was a slight increase from the 58.7 per cent of Malays and 52.6 per cent of Indians five years ago.

About one in five Singaporeans also experience age discrimination in their workplace, another study last year showed.

Mr Ng, in his speech, added that mothers in particular face struggles, with questions about their marital status and number of children posed during the hiring process, hurting their chances of finding employment.

This is why legislating against unfair employment practices can address these issues, he said.

"It is time that our laws on workplace discrimination matched the seriousness and pervasiveness of the problem."

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