New law to ban workplace discrimination such as on nationality: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Office workers seen during lunch hour in Singapore’s central business district on 2 June 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Office workers seen during lunch hour in Singapore’s central business district on 2 June 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The government will unveil a new law to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of nationality, age, race, religion, gender, and disability, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (29 August).

The move comes after the government received repeated requests over the years to toughen up the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), Lee said. In particular, the labour movement and NTUC Members of Parliament (MPs) have pushed for anti-discrimination laws that carry penalties, he added.

Currently, Tafep has clear guidelines on fair treatment. When a company falls short, Tafep will counsel it. If the company still fails to get its act together, the Ministry of Manpower can impose administrative penalties, including restricting it from hiring foreign workers.

The government has held back from introducing such a law as it did not want the process to become legalistic or confrontational, and prefers for disputes to be resolved amicably, Lee said.

But after consulting the tripartite partners, the government has decided to adopt the labour MPs’ suggestions and enshrine the Tafep guidelines in law, he added.

Lee acknowledged there are often complaints about financial institutions and IT companies hiring too many foreigners.

These sectors have a large share of work pass holders as Singapore is a business hub, he explained. They require both local and foreign talent, and skills are in short supply.

These companies employ many Singaporeans, including for senior and international positions, Lee said. If the government had not allowed the companies to import the employment pass holders they needed, they would not have come here, and Singaporeans would have had fewer opportunities, he added.

But Lee said that “not every company plays ball” and a few have been unfair employers.

“They hire from their own countries, using familiar links and old boys’ networks, rather than openly on merit. And they give foreigners the jobs and opportunities, and only make token gestures with locals. That naturally causes problems.”

When these problems happen, government agencies such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, deal with these transgressions firmly, Lee said.

The government will model the new approach against workplace discrimination on how it currently deals with disputes over salaries or wrongful dismissal. In such disputes, conciliation and mediation are tried first, failing which they go before an Employment Claims Tribunal. The government will create a similar Tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination, Lee said.

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