ST_Laws to tackle workplace discrimination in Singapore cannot be too rigid: Experts

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 Laws to tackle workplace discrimination in Singapore cannot be too rigid: Experts

Calvin Yang
AUG 10, 2021, 5:00 AM SGT

SINGAPORE - Laws to tackle workplace discrimination can better protect Singaporeans against errant employers who do not consider them fairly for job opportunities.

Yet legislation cannot be too rigid, labour observers told The Straits Times. If it is, there may be unintended consequences like deterring firms from setting up shop here and creating good jobs for locals.

This comes as a tripartite committee has been set up to examine policy options to boost efforts to tackle workplace discrimination.

The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness will look into whether legislative protections should be pursued, and if so, the appropriate scope.

Sharing this in Parliament on July 26, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said: "Legislation could give us more enforcement powers against errant employers beyond suspending work pass privileges, and confer better protection on employees who whistle-blow."

But laws alone do not determine better employment outcomes, noted Dr Tan.

Workplace discrimination - which comes in various forms such as based on nationality, race, age and gender - has received more attention over the past year, as the Covid-19 crisis continues to threaten livelihoods.

PeopleWorldwide Consulting managing director David Leong stressed that legislative protections must be based on evidence.

"Obvious biases and discriminatory acts must be established," he said. "Otherwise, this can be deemed a frightening witch hunt that can chase employers away."

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem said: "While legislation may be seen as too blunt an instrument to be used, there are merits to reviewing and perhaps introducing new legislative measures if the progress towards fair employment practices is too slow or not getting traction."

Efforts to tackle various types of workplace discrimination here have been stepped up over the years.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager at ManpowerGroup Singapore, agreed that there is only so much that legislation can do. "In addition, it is critical to continue educating employers and employees on the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace and encouraging them to be inclusive in their hiring and company policies."

Workplace discrimination can happen any time, during recruitment, performance appraisals or promotion, she added. Having a clear framework outlining what is considered discriminatory will help employers and employees to understand their rights.

"As much as we want to tackle workplace discrimination and protect employees, (the measures) need to safeguard employers' interests as well, to protect them from employees who may abuse the measures for personal gain," she said.

Experts believes unfair practices are more pronounced in countries with higher unemployment rates.

Some countries, such as Australia and the United States, have laws in place that prevent employers from asking personal details, such as age, ethnicity and disabilities, that can lead to discrimination, said Ms Teo. "The committee will need to determine what personal information is required for employers to assess a candidate's suitability for the job, and to what extent."

Observers highlighted the importance of staying open.

NeXT Career Consulting Group managing director Paul Heng said: "We must not lose sight of our dearth of natural resources, and will have to continue to count on people to drive our economy.

"We must also not kid ourselves that we do not need foreign talent." 

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