Planned anti-discrimination law not seeking to change standards, dialogue participants told

The new legislation does not intend to make it more difficult for companies to comply.
The new legislation does not intend to make it more difficult for companies to comply.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - There will be no change for employers if they have been complying with fair employment guidelines as a planned law on workplace discrimination is not seeking to change standards of fairness.

This was the consensus answer to some of the burning questions among human resources professionals and company representatives on Wednesday (Nov 24) at a dialogue organised by the Ministry of Manpower and other partners.

The starting point for the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness, set up to look at Singapore's first workplace discrimination laws, is that the current Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) fair employment guidelines have been effective.

The new legislation, therefore, does not intend to make it more difficult for companies to comply.

The questions were raised by the 150 or so participants at the Dialogue on Workplace Fairness, during a session that was held under the Chatham House Rule, which forbids the identity or affiliation of any speakers to be revealed.

The participants also asked whether HR professionals themselves or companies and company directors would be taken to task under the new law. They were told that the tripartite committee was still considering the options.

The law on workplace discrimination was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the National Day Rally in August. He said the Government will enshrine Tafep guidelines in law to give them more teeth and expand the range of actions that can be taken against errant companies.

Before the dialogue on Wednesday, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said during a panel discussion that the tripartite committee has engaged a wide range of stakeholders across diverse industries, sectors and occupations since September.

From the feedback received so far, discrimination based on age, race and nationality were the top bugbears, added Mr Zaqy, who is a member of the committee.

This is also borne out by data from Tafep, added its general manager Faith Li, who also spoke on the panel held before the dialogue.

Another common concern is that it is challenging to determine what specific actions constituted workplace discrimination, Mr Zaqy said, adding that the feedback called for the tripartite committee to set out requirements under the new legislation clearly.

At the same time, employers and workers in their feedback also emphasised the need for flexibility in HR practices across sectors and across specific company operations, he noted.

OCBC Group chief HR officer Jason Ho, who was also a panellist, said it is important for the law to provide clarity on what is deemed fair and what is discriminatory, so that it will be easier for firms to know if they are in compliance.

Meanwhile, Singapore University of Technology and Design chief HR officer Jaclyn Lee said during the panel discussion that more training should be provided to HR professionals so that they will be able to put in place the right systems and processes for companies in the first place.

Mr Zaqy noted stakeholders had also said the upcoming legislation should not result in onerous processes for both businesses and claimants.

He added: "The tripartite committee is taking the feedback on board. Indeed, we believe that legal redress should be the last, and not the first, recourse. All parties need to work hard to settle disputes through mediation and conciliation."

He also said that in general, Singaporeans welcome the move to enshrine current guidelines on workplace discrimination into law.

The tripartite committee expects to reach out to more than 5,000 people, including employers, workers, HR professionals, and volunteers from the grassroots and non-governmental organisations by the end of the first quarter of next year.

This will be done through surveys, focus group discussions and dialogues, said Mr Zaqy.