Friday, 20 April 2012

Job bias against S'poreans the top complaint - TAFEP Annual Review 2011

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2012

COMPLAINTS that employers prefer foreigners over locals have for the first time topped the list of grievances that Singaporeans have over unfair employment practices.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) - a fair employment watchdog - also received more than double the number of complaints in total last year compared to a year ago.

'Concerns over fair opportunities for Singaporeans emerged as the top issue in 2011 for the first time,' Tafep said in its annual report released yesterday.

The top three types of complaints - numbering 277 in total - were over nationality, language and race, and age.

This compares to 115 complaints in 2010 - mostly on language and race, as well as age.

Tafep was set up in 2006 by the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to promote fair employment practices.

It relies on persuasion to coax employers to treat workers fairly, and it does not have any legal power to act on discrimination complaints.

In October last year, it enhanced its guidelines to affirm the importance of Singaporeans remaining at the core of the workforce.

Since then, Tafep has approached over 100 employers on nationality-related allegations, said Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

Speaking to 400 participants at a seminar on fair employment practices, he added: 'We found a range of concerns surfacing, such as job ads that express preference for foreigners - this is probably the most common; foreign supervisors favouring their own countrymen; and exclusionary behaviour.'

Such behaviour included the speaking of different languages, eating separately and the passing of condescending remarks.

Tafep claimed yesterday that all the employers it approached following the complaints have 'accepted' its advice.

However, it refused to give a breakdown of the types of complaints or an assessment of the trend. Its spokesman would only say: 'We are unfortunately not able to share any statistics or figures with you.'

Nevertheless, discrimination against Singaporeans worried Mr Tan who said yesterday: 'We are watching the trends.'

He added that the ministry is watching some 'particular sectors' and will speak to the companies there.

The Minister of State, however, rejected the idea of an anti-discrimination law.

Discrimination issues are complex and rigid rules may harm those they are trying to protect, he argued, citing a 2001 study which found that a United States law to help the disabled resulted in fewer of these workers being hired.

Instead, it is better to rely on the three-way partnership among the Government, employers and labour movement to tackle such discrimination, said Mr Tan.

But while Tafep will use a 'light touch' to coax companies to comply with the guidelines, Mr Tan warned: 'For employers who blatantly disregard the guidelines, the MOM will not hesitate to take firm action.'

An MOM spokesman said the ministry has issued written warnings to two companies after they posted discriminatory recruitment advertisements online.

'One was an employment agency, while the other was a large employer in the services sector,' she said.

The ministry did not name the companies, but an international hotel chain sparked an outcry in February after it posted an online ad to hire a 'native PRC Chinese' for a regional sales manager job.

The hotel subsequently retracted the ad and apologised.

For labour MP Heng Chee How, who co-chairs Tafep, changing the attitudes of both employers and workers is key to promoting fair employment.

To do so, Tafep rolled out a new television commercial and presented a report card of its outreach drive yesterday.

Mr Fang Koh Look, the executive chairman of local small and medium-sized enterprise Absolute Kinetics Consultancy, said that it is important for bosses to change their attitudes.

But he also wished that workers can be forgiving of mistakes.

'Employers, some of us were employees before... As employers, we learn from mistakes as well,' he said.

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