Introducing anti-workplace discrimination laws in Singapore could likely lead to “rigidities for responsible employers and entail lengthy dispute resolution processes”, said Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEC)’s executive director Sim Gim Guan.
He made the statement on Wednesday (16 December) in response to a letter by Mamta Melwani, senior executive at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE)’s Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory.
Ms Melwani’s letter, which was published on TODAY, urged the Government to enact laws to hold errant employers who practice unfair hiring practices accountable.
She also cited a number of reports which showed an increase of discriminatory hiring practices in the country, as well as the lack of legislation to enforce the guidelines outlined in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.
Responding to Ms Melwani’s letter, Mr Sim said that SNEF agrees that errant employers should be held accountable.
However, he stated that the number of complaints about discrimination handled by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) has reduced over the years.
Mr Sim also pointed out that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) takes action against these errant employers through methods such as suspending their work-pass privileges.
“Being unable to apply for or renew work passes for 12 to 24 months may seem light to some, but it affects business operations — for example in the form of project delays — which will impact the business financially.
“The vast majority of employers are responsible and recognise the benefits of adopting fair and progressive employment practices,” he said.
Additionally, SNEF also encourages complainants to ask for help from Tafep if they experience workplace discrimination, or the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management to resolve employment disputes if they cannot be resolved at their workplaces, Mr Sim said.
By doing so, this gives employers an opportunity to share their side of the story during investigations or mediation, and during this time, both parties can also try to solve any issue or misunderstanding between them.
“The tripartite approach of complementing employment legislation with tripartite guidelines has enabled Singapore to achieve good employment outcomes. Where appropriate, employers also supported legislative changes, such as the extension of maternity protection under the Employment Act,” the Executive Director said.
However, Mr Sim asserted that anti-discrimination laws will result in long dispute resolution processes, as well as “rigidities” for employers who are responsible.
“Since it is possible to allege discrimination even when that is not the case, responsible employers would face vexatious legal cases and incur unnecessary costs and time attending to them,” he opined.
The costs to enact such legislation, said Mr Sim, will “outweigh the benefits”, as in his view “only a minority of employers carry out discriminatory practices”.
“Legislation is also unlikely to change the mindsets of employees who choose not to report workplace discrimination for fear of retaliation or being identified.
“Instead, responsible employers would handle such cases seriously and tactfully to ensure a harmonious work environment,” he added.
As such, Mr Sim said that helping “employers roll out responsible employment practices and hold the irresponsible ones accountable” is the better way to deal with workplace discrimination.
“Taking a legalistic approach to resolving workplace issues often results in rigidities and souring of workplace relations, which benefit neither the employer nor the employee. We will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to shape mindsets and employment practices to build inclusive workplaces,” he noted.
Commenting on SNEF’s statement, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh took to Facebook on Friday (18 December) to voice his disagreement with the national trade union of employers.
In the post, Mr Singh cited a report by MOM that showed an increase of discrimination faced by employees during the job search process and said that SNEF’s response to anti-discrimination laws should be based on this MOM report.
Below is the report by MOM that Mr Singh cited:
…Based on the findings (of a 2018 MOM survey), 69% of employers had put in place processes to ensure fair hiring practices and this proportion had been increasing steadily since 2010. Notwithstanding the progress made, the percentage of local jobseekers who perceived discrimination during job search process had increased from 10% in 2014 to 15% in 2018.” – Source: MOM; Employment Standards Report 2019/2020
To this, the Leader of Opposition said that “more needs to be done, and can be done”, adding: “Laws to tackle discrimination will not affect the vast majority of employers with progressive HR policies.”
Netizens condemn SNEF’s response
Upon reading SNEF’s statement, netizens slammed the organisation for its stand on not wanting to enact anti-discrimination laws at the workplace.
Commenting on the Facebook page of TODAY, online users called SNEF’s statement “ridiculous” and explained that the current guidelines that are in place are only rules and not laws.
As such, it’s important to take the legal route as “the federation is inept and inadequate” in addressing such issues.
One user said, “To say that you are afraid of souring relationship due to imposing a law, you are missing the point of a law. A law is meant to uphold wellbeing and good, despite opposition or stubbornness in the evildoer.”
One online user pointed out that laws protecting employees will “prevent unscrupulous employers from abusing and exploiting employees especially those who are weak and fear to speak up”.