News & Updates

Remarks by Dr Robert Yap, President, Singapore National Employers Federation at the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness Final Report Press Conference

FRIDAY, 4 AUGUST 2023, 8.00AM.

Brother See Leng, Minister for Manpower
Brother Chee Meng, Secretary General, NTUC
Fellow Committee members
Friends from the media
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning!

Since the release of the interim report of the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (Committee) in February 2023, the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) had engaged employers to gather their feedback on the interim recommendations.

2. After about six months of further discussion, the Committee had achieved consensus that balance between providing adequate protection for workers and maintaining flexibility for employers, having taken into account the employers’ feedback.

3. I would like to emphasise that the vast majority of employers are responsible and do not condone workplace discrimination. Ideally, employers would prefer no law as legislation adds rigidity and can impede business growth but we understand that there is a need to take appropriate actions against errant employers to nip workplace discrimination in the bud.

4. The introduction of the workplace fairness legislation (WFL) will send a strong signal that workplace discrimination has no place in Singapore.

5. As legislation tends to add rigidities and may have unintended consequences, I would highlight a few areas which employers are most concerned with and how the Committee have addressed them.

Workplace Relations
6. As Singapore has a diverse workforce, multi-racial, multi-religion, multi-generation, multi-nationality and so on, miscommunications and misunderstandings can arise in the workplace, which may result in some employees perceiving that they are being discriminated.

7. Employers prefer to manage and resolve issues within the organisation first to maintain harmonious workplace relations. Employers would need to put in place a good grievance handling procedure to provide a safe avenue for employees to raise any grievances and attempt to resolve them amicably. Therefore, the Committee recommend that having a grievance handling procedure would be made mandatory.

8. SNEF will help our members to develop or enhance their processes if they need any assistance.

9. It is only when an issue could not be resolved within the workplace, then it would be referred for mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM). Going to the Employment Claims Tribunal or ECT, should be a last resort.

Workplace Culture
10. We have heard feedback from some stakeholders that all forms of workplace discrimination should be covered under the proposed WFL. It is important to note that the five protected characteristics would have covered 95% of the cases reported to the Tripartite Alliance on Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP).

11. In addition, if the definition of workplace discrimination is very wide and not well-defined, it may attract more unsubstantiated, if not frivolous, claims which employers are very worried about. Many have shared that huge amount of management’s time has to be devoted to refute any frivolous or unsubstantiated allegation.

12. Hence, employers would welcome that claimants should first provide evidence when lodging a claim. Employers would also have the option to fast track the process to the ECT, that is empowered to strike out frivolous claims and award costs if the claim is found to be frivolous or vexatious.

13. Overall, the Committee have scoped the proposed WFL carefully to prevent a litigious workplace culture and yet covered the most common forms of workplace discrimination reported.

Workplace Inclusiveness
14. During consultation, employers also expressed concerns that their good intentions may be interpreted as discriminatory if we simply follow the letter of the law.

15. For example, many employers are keen to support the hiring of senior workers, persons with disabilities (PWDs) or both. If the law is scoped too tightly, such actions to attract and recruit these groups of people could be deemed discriminatory.

16. The Committee will support employers who wish to hire senior workers and PWDs to be more inclusive as long as they meet the minimum job requirements.

Workplace Policies
17. Employers also shared that some workplace fairness cases may be due to lapses or breaches by individuals. It is against their own values and policies to have unfair employment practices.

18. The WFL would have a set of enforcement levers that can be calibrated based on severity of the breaches and apply to employers, individuals or both. This should assuage employers who have been fair.

19. At the same time, we recognise that small employers like neighbourhood shops and start-ups may not have established any comprehensive HR policies yet due to manpower and resource constraints.

20. Hence, the Committee have recommended that employers with less than 25 employees would be exempted for a start and would review the exemption in five years’ time.

21. Still, small employers can grow to become bigger employers. SNEF will assist them in implementing responsible employment practices to support their business growth.

Workplace Fairness
22. To conclude, the journey towards a fairer workplace has no end point as the relationship between employers and employees are dynamic, and there will always be new employers, managers, HR professionals, supervisors and co-workers who may not be fully aware about workplace fairness. So we need to sustain the efforts to uphold workplace fairness through three ‘P’s:
a. Promotion by educating both employers and workers on fair employment practices
b. Prevention by assisting employers to implement fair employment practices
c. Protection by having effective deterrence against unfair employment practices

23. With the release of the final recommendations, we would be strengthening the protection part and I would like to reassure employers that the upcoming legislation is not as onerous as other countries’. They would also not have to worry if they have responsible employment practices and are fair.

24. Going forward, we will do more on promotion and prevention which are more important if we aspire to have zero discrimination in our workplaces. SNEF are committed to work with our tripartite partners to uphold workplace fairness through helping employers, especially SMEs, implement fair and responsible employment practices.

25. Therefore, SNEF strongly support the final recommendations of the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness.

26. Finally, on behalf of employers, I thank the co-chairs, Minister and Sec-Gen, fellow committee members and the Secretariat for their hard work over past two years.

27. Thank you!

[1] (i) age, (ii) nationality, (iii) sex, marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, (iv) race, religion, language, (v) disability, mental health conditions.