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AWARE and DPA call for stronger protection against employment discrimination

Gender equality group AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) and disability advocacy group DPA (Disabled People’s Association) are calling for stronger protection against employment discrimination in a joint submission to the public consultation on the Employment Act review.

“We welcome this public consultation and strongly encourage that the Employment Act be extended to all employees in Singapore, regardless of position, type of contract, or salary earned,” said Corinna Lim, AWARE’s Executive Director.

“We hope that existing provisions can be strengthened and new protections be introduced to better guarantee the rights of workers, especially vulnerable employees.”

Specifically, AWARE and DPA call for employers to be prohibited in discriminating on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity, religion, congenital or acquired disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and family or other caregiving responsibilities.

Studies show that workplace gender discrimination and attitudinal bias are present at all levels: hiring, promotion and firing. Vulnerable employees, including disabled women, pregnant women and mothers, face additional forms of discrimination in employment.

“We have seen mothers who were fired because they had to take time-off to care for their sick children; pregnant women who were unfairly assessed at work and dismissed due to their pregnancy,” said Ms Lim.

“Employers have no legal duty to avoid discrimination and the Employment Act does not seem to allow for a dismissal to be disputed based on discrimination.”

“We recommend that the Employment Act provide clear definitions of what constitutes ‘unfair dismissal’. The Ministry should also set up an independent body to look into all employment-related disputes, including unfair dismissal claims. Currently, TAFEP only handles salary-related disputes.”

Executive Director of DPA, Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills added, “With an ageing population, people are living longer and working past the age when they would have previously retired. Employees will either acquire disabilities or become caregivers to those with disabilities. If we want to be a truly inclusive society, we need the Employment Act to both reflect this trend and protect the rights of those who need reasonable accommodation in the workplace, be it flexible working hours, paid leave to care for dependents with disabilities or jobs redesign after acquiring a disability.”

“Changes to the Employment Act should reflect that treating employees who are in a more economically and socially vulnerable position fairly is not just a moral responsibility, but a legal one too.”

AWARE and DPA call for the following:

● Extend EA coverage to all workers and employees in Singapore, including domestic workers.
● Prohibit employers to discriminate on the basis of gender, race or ethnicity, religion, congenital or acquired disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation and family or caregiving responsibilities.
● Require employers to address workplace sexual harassment and gender pay gap
● Provide clear definitions and remedies for ‘unfair dismissals’.
● Set up an independent body to look into all employment-related disputes, including unfair dismissal and workplace harassment complaints.
● Entitle all parents, regardless of citizenship status of their child, to the maximum quantum of childcare leave as available to parents of Singaporean children.
● Enhance maternity protection, including against dismissal upon return from maternity leave.
● Allow all employees to take paid eldercare or family care leave.
● Require employers to provide reasonable job accommodations for employees who acquire disabilities in the course of their employment.
● Give all employees the right to request flexible-work arrangements to care for their child and/or elderly, and disabled family members. The employer is obliged to give the request serious consideration and must have a good business reason for declining any such request. Prohibit employers from penalising employees who take time-off to give care.
● Prohibit employers from misrepresenting employment as independent contracting arrangement and dismissing employees to engage them as independent contractors.