Workplace discrimination can be resolved with less hostile mediation approach: SMF responds to AWARE’s calls for legislative approach

The Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF) said on Thursday (7 January) that a less hostile mediation approach would be more appropriate to address workplace discrimination, rather than taking legislative approach.

SMF’s statement was made in response to the letter by the Association of Women for Action and Research’s (AWARE) senior executive Mamta Melwani, who called for the Government to enact a Workplace Equality Act to deter workplace discrimination cases in Singapore.

According to AWARE, such law is also needed to ensure a legal remedy for dismissed workers and current employees, and hold employers legally accountable for their actions.

Ms Melwani stated that many workplace discrimination cases have gone unreported as employees chose not to file complaints against their employers due to a lack of protections under “the present non-legislative approach”.

“They fear Tafep [Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices] will not keep their complaint confidential and their employers will retaliate when the complaint comes to light,” she wrote.

However, Singapore National Employers Federation’s (SNEF) executive director Sim Gim Guan said that taking a legalistic approach to resolving workplace issues will only lead to “rigidities” and “souring of workplace relations”, which would not benefits the employer nor the employee.

“Legislation is also unlikely to change the mindsets of employees who choose not to report workplace discrimination for fear of retaliation or being identified,” said Mr Sim.

“Instead, responsible employers would handle such cases seriously and tactfully to ensure a harmonious work environment,” he added.

SMF in its statement penned by its Secretary-General Lawrence Pek, wrote, “With all due respect, we at SMF humbly request that Ms Melwani considers that as trends are on the downside and that a framework already exists, to stand with both SNEF and SMF, to further bolster and promulgate the work of Tafep,”

Mr Pek highlighted that Tafep’s report indicated that the number of complaints related to workplace discrimination has decreased over a five-year period from 2015.

“Even though both Ms Melwani and Mr Sim have given interesting statistics in relation to workplace discrimination, statistics provided over a five-year period are perhaps more coherent and persuasive relative to statistics done on a comparative year-to-year basis, especially since the year that just passed is one out of the ordinary,” he wrote.

Though Mr Pek noted that SMF is not against such legislation being enacted, he believes that legislative fiats are “not the silver bullets against rooting out opportunistic behaviours and not pervasive in every workplace”.

“While SMF acknowledges that Tafep is not without teeth, as it works closely with the Ministry of Manpower to take deterrent actions for egregious employers, SMF opines that any meaningful and sustainable complaisance still requires all stakeholders to ingest the positive spirit of any employment relationship, rather than be compelled to do so by prescriptive legislation,” he added.

Mr Pek also cited Manpower Minister Josephine Teo’s response in Parliament last September, who noted that implementing legislative protection for workers is “not unthinkable” for a Minister and thus the Retirement and Re-employment Act was enacted to protect senior workers.

“SMF believes that flexibility afforded in avenues such as mediation, especially in any labour dispute, is certainly a less hostile and less confrontational format.

“This is where parties can come together to resolve their differences, with cool heads and calm hearts among themselves, juxtaposed against the relative rigidity of a legislative framework that may end up being a protracted and painful process for both complainant and alleged offender,” he asserted.

 

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