The interim draft of the Workplace Fairness Legislation, aimed at safeguarding workers against nationality and age discrimination, as well as implementing new penalties for noncompliant employers, was introduced on Monday (13 Feb).

In August 2021, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the decision during his National Day Rally speech to enforce anti-discrimination laws, in response to concerns about Singaporeans being overlooked for job opportunities and promotions due to the preference of foreign managers for their own national networks, particularly in the IT and financial industries.

This new legislation, expected to be passed into law in 2024, has four key objectives, which will be achieved through 20 recommendations.

But isn’t it, arguably, taking quite a long time to “enact” this discrimination legislation in 2024, after it was announced in August 2021?

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in 2018 that the Singapore government has resisted enacting an antidiscrimination legislation on the basis that these laws may deter businesses from hiring workers from protected groups for fear of being accused of discrimination.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng reportedly said foreign trade chambers have expressed support for the Bill, even though it originated as a measure to root out foreign bias among employers.

“When the Singaporean PMETs feel that they have a level playing field, we can then enlarge the space for an foreign augmented workforce,” said the former People’s Action Party Minister.

PMETs refer to professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

In the meantime, whilst we wait for the legislation to be enacted in 2024 — with no specified date of its implementation — the percentage of non-native S’poreans in the workforce, continues to increase to 55.6 per cent1. (estimate)

While real income for Resident Full-time employed Associate Professionals & Technicians increased by only 0.16 per cent p.a. in the last 20 years?

According to a reply by Manpower Minister in September 2021, between 2014 and the first half of 2021, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) received an average of 379 workplace discrimination complaints each year. The bulk of the complaints stemmed from discrimination by nationality, accounting for 61.5 per cent of the complaints.

1. (37.7 per cent + 10.7 per cent + 6.7 per cent + 0.5 per cent) (non-native citizens in workforce (including citizens not born in S’pore & citizens born in S’pore as non-citizens))

Workings for non-local workforce
  • Breakdown of the total workforce in 2022 (est.):
    37.7% foreign (1,457,857)
    10.7% PRs (413,810)
    51.6% citizens (1,993,333)
  • 48.4% (est.) non-S’porean (foreigners + PRs)
  • 6.7% (est.) (13% x 51.6%) (13% citizen workforce not born in S’pore) (Parliamentary debate, Jul 2021)
  • 0.5% (est.) (est.1% x 51.6%) (est. 1% citizen workforce born in S’pore as non-citizens) (6,959 non-citizen births in 2021 (38,672 total live-births – 34,183 resident live-births – 31,713 citizen births))
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