Wednesday 22 May 2013

Govt is open to anti-discrimination labour laws

By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 21 May 2013

SINGAPORE yesterday signalled that it is open to the idea of having anti-discrimination laws as a possible way to protect Singaporean workers, a move that marks a shift from its position a year ago.

Instead of rejecting legislation as the answer to unfair treatment at the workplace, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday: "Anti-discrimination legislation is one possible way to address these issues and we do not reject the idea entirely."

But he was quick to add that for now, the Government prefers to stick to its approach of persuading companies to change. It "is working for us", he said, as the root cause of discrimination in Singapore is employers' mindsets.

Mr Tan made these comments at an annual seminar of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) yesterday, in a speech that was more accommodating to the idea of legislation.

Last year, at the same conference, he rejected these "rigid laws", warning that they could "end up inadvertently harming the very people we are trying to help". He had also cited a 2001 study that found a law in the United States to help the disabled resulted in fewer of such workers being hired.

In March, while disclosing his ministry was studying hiring practices in other countries, Mr Tan pointed out that it was difficult to prove discrimination.

But discrimination complaints hit an all-time high last year, Tafep disclosed yesterday. Of the 303 complaints it handled, half were from Singaporeans who said their bosses preferred foreigners over locals. This continues a pattern that started in 2011.

Mr Tan, however, has yet to be swayed despite acknowledging continuing calls on the Government to introduce laws to stop such unfair practices.

Citing several countries with such laws, he said their experience shows "legislation alone might not be adequate in changing mindsets".

Besides handling more complaints, Tafep said yesterday it is also working on convincing more companies to treat their workers fairly, including coaxing over 2,000 of them to pledge publicly they would be fair employers.

Managing director Raj Kumar of travel agency International Paradise Connexions agreed that coaxing companies to change is better than having laws.

But Mr Richardo Chua, managing director of Adrenalin Events and Education, said laws would be useful in instances where discrimination is blatant, like job advertisements that state racial or age preferences.

"There needs to be, perhaps, base legislation to combat (the) really unfair practices," he added.

Meanwhile, four dialogues will be held next month by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) for Singaporeans to speak on jobs and fair employment opportunities. These are part of MOM's Our Singapore Conversation sessions to prepare workers for the future demands of the economy, said Mr Tan.

The dialogues will cover two themes: lifelong learning and picking up new skills to stay competitive in the workplace, and how Singaporeans can be given fair consideration for jobs. People who want to take part can sign up at

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