SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is looking at how to strengthen measures to tackle discrimination in the workplace more effectively.
While anti-discrimination laws will not be a panacea for unfair labor practices, authorities are considering all options, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Saturday (July 10).
Severe penalties could be imposed on employers who do not consider Singaporeans fair for job opportunities, he said.
The Ministry and Tripartite Partners are reviewing the Tripartite Fair Labor Practice Guidelines.
Speaking to reporters after a community event at the Joo Chiat Community Center, Dr. Tan that “it won’t be long” before they come back with a recommendation.
The minister responded to recent comments from opposition leader Pritam Singh calling on companies to lobby the government to pass anti-discrimination laws.
Last Thursday, Mr Singh said that while the Workers’ Party supports MOM’s Fair Consideration Framework in principle, more teeth are needed.
Employers who unfairly hire foreigners over Singaporeans will only be subject to administrative fines, he said at an event hosted by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.
He added that anti-discrimination laws with legal sanctions would send a “strong signal” to companies to change the way they recruit.
MOM’s Fair Consideration Framework, introduced in 2014, describes the requirements for employers in Singapore to consider Singaporeans fairly for job openings before hiring foreign professionals on the Employment Pass and S Pass.
dr. Tan noted that Mr Singh was not the first MP to call for anti-discrimination laws.
Labor MP Saktiandi Supaat of the People’s Action Party was one of the first to raise the idea, and many others, including PAP MPs Patrick Tay and Louis Ng, have echoed those calls, he said.
dr. Tan said MOM has taken a nuanced approach by consulting and working with the unions and companies on this issue.
In this regard, the Fair Consideration Framework enables MOM to identify companies employing unfair recruiting practices and work with them to improve their processes.
At recalcitrant companies, their privilege for a work pass is suspended for between 12 and 24 months. These are a “small minority,” he said.
“We don’t want to be seen as someone with a very, very prescriptive framework that limits (businesses),” he said.
“As we open our doors to the world, we also want to establish a fair, meritocratic-based progression system for our Singaporean core, as well as for people who come and work,” he said.
The framework is currently under review to see what tougher penalties can be imposed for taking action against erring companies.
He noted that given the way the industry is changing so quickly, being overly prescriptive could lead to jobs being relocated elsewhere as well.
“We are also trying to make sure we don’t accidentally push companies abroad,” he said. “In the short term we may seem to have some advantage, but in the long term we end up losing it. So it’s a very delicate balance.”
Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo, who was the labor minister before Dr. Tan, said in a Facebook post on Saturday that she supports his plan to strengthen measures against discrimination in the workplace.
She noted that in 2020, before Covid-19 hit, MOM had made “honesty at work” the top priority for the year.
Under the Fair Consideration Framework, penalties became stricter for companies that had engaged in any form of discrimination and not just discrimination based on nationality, she noted.
She said in November 2019 she had urged companies to pay more attention to their workforce profiles and prepare locals for career advancement and strive for greater diversity in their foreign workforce.
Other PAP MPs had also discussed “extensively” with her since last year about possible laws to tackle discrimination. These views were shared with Dr Tan, Ms Teo said.
She noted that in 2020 MOM made policy changes such as raising salary thresholds for Employment and S Passes and lowering S Pass quotas, among others “to further strengthen the complementarity of the local and foreign labor force”.
“The foreign workforce shrank significantly, and this helped mitigate the impact on local employment,” she said.
As Singapore tries to recover from Covid-19, it is time to rethink how fair practice measures can be strengthened, she said, in agreement with Dr Tan that the goal “cannot be to create more friction for progressive employers , but to declare the blatant detention”.
She added: “Mr Singh’s call for legislative change therefore sounds familiar. However, his recognition that keeping Singapore open has been an overall plus for our people is quite refreshing.”