Whistle-blowers singled out by bosses should go to MOM, Tafep for help

It was announced earlier this year that Tafep guidelines will be enshrined into laws tackling discrimination across gender, age, race, religion and disability. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Whistle-blowers who feel victimised, targeted or discriminated against by employers should approach the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or Singapore's employment watchdog for guidance and assistance, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (Oct 5).

The ministry or the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) will then further investigate the allegations and consider enforcement action against the employer.

Dr Koh was responding in Parliament to a question from Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), who had asked what could be done with employers who fail to provide a safe environment for employees to speak up, and what recourse would employees have when faced with retaliation for reporting discrimination. "It is somewhat an unequal relationship," she said.

Noting that such cases are rare, Dr Koh also told the House that the law protects employees against dismissal without just cause or excuse, including situations where they are sacked for reporting workplace discrimination.

Tripartite guidelines on fair employment practices also require employers to treat all employees based on merit at all phases of employment, he said.

And a committee is currently examining the scope of possible legislation for workplace fairness, including protection for whistle-blowers.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced at his National Day Rally in August this year that Tafep guidelines would be enshrined into laws tackling discrimination across gender, age, race, religion and disability.

Earlier, Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) also asked MOM to consider naming and shaming employers practising workplace discrimination.

The intent would be to motivate both employer and employees to adopt fair employment practices as soon as possible, he said.

Dr Koh replied that at present, firms with a degree of discriminatory practices may be put on the Fair Consideration Framework watch list.

"Firms that are on this watch list, technically they have not flouted any rules yet, but perhaps some of their practices may be veering on the grey margins, and putting them on the watch list is a way to engage with the firms and signal to them that their practices have to be improved," he said.

In most instances, educating these employers on the nuancing of fair employment guidelines has led to them changing for the better, said Dr Koh.

"Naming firms will sometimes also end up having negative consequences because it would then frustrate their efforts to actually recruit and hire people, and impede some of their business functions," he added. "For firms which, despite our efforts to engage them, refuse or persist in their discriminatory actions, we will take enforcement actions against them."

These measures include requiring employers to attend corrective workshops conducted by Tafep, asking them to rectify lapses in their human resource processes, and, in more serious cases, curtailing their work pass privileges.

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