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Discrimination against workers and jobseekers declined, but ageism still prevalent: MOM survey

SINGAPORE — A new survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has found that incidence of workplace discrimination has plummeted after four years, particularly when it comes to the hiring of expectant mothers.

In a 2021 survey by the Ministry of Manpower, about 4 per cent of respondents said that they faced discrimination due to their “pregnancy status”, compared with around 23 per cent in 2018.
In a 2021 survey by the Ministry of Manpower, about 4 per cent of respondents said that they faced discrimination due to their “pregnancy status”, compared with around 23 per cent in 2018.
  • Just 8 per cent of resident employees reported experiencing workplace discrimination in 2021, down from 24 per cent in 2018
  • For job applicants, 25 per cent said they felt there was discrimination, down from 43 per cent in 2018
  • Respondents said the top reason for discrimination was age, especially those aged 40 and older
  • This applied to people holding jobs and those looking for jobs

SINGAPORE — A new survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has found that the incidence of workplace discrimination has plummeted after four years, particularly when it comes to the hiring of expectant mothers.

However, among people who reported that there was discrimination against them at the workplace, the top reason given was that it was because they were of an older age.

The survey on fair employment practices, which was released on Wednesday (March 23), found that just 8 per cent of resident employees reported experiencing workplace discrimination last year.

This is a sharp drop from the 24 per cent reported by respondents during MOM’s last survey in 2018.

Similarly, only 25 per cent of job applicants felt that they had experienced discrimination last year — a sharp contrast to the 43 per cent who felt the same way in 2018.

Explaining the decline in discrimination seen within the workplace and by jobseekers, MOM said that this was largely because the ministry, along with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), have been working over the past three years to "correct stereotypes or raise awareness".

A second reason was the tightening of the labour market last year, so many employers could have opted for candidates with the right skill sets, and placed less emphasis on their preferences for groups of a certain demographic profile, MOM said at a media presentation on the results on Tuesday.

The survey, which is conducted around every three years, also found that fewer expectant mothers experienced discrimination while they were applying for jobs.

Last year, about 4 per cent of respondents said that they faced discrimination due to their “pregnancy status”, compared with around 23 per cent in 2018.

The survey results were published slightly more than half a year after the authorities said that they were considering legislating against workplace discrimination.

During his National Day Rally in August last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that such a proposal will better protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender and disability.

Here is a summary of the key findings from the survey, which polled around 4,000 people. MOM said that there was a response rate of 85 per cent for the survey.


Among the survey findings is a section pertaining to the proportion of resident employees who felt that they were discriminated at work due to their personal attributes.

MOM said that this was data that was newly collected in 2021 and was not measured in 2018.

The following were the reasons for discrimination among employees, ranked from the most common to the least.

  • Age: 4.6 per cent of the respondents gave this as a reason
  • Pregnancy status: 3.7 per cent
  • Mental health condition: 3.2 per cent
  • Race: 2.8 per cent
  • Gender: 2.1 per cent
  • Disability: 2.1 per cent
  • Nationality: 1.9 per cent
  • With children (female respondents with at least one child): 1.5 per cent
  • Marital status: 1.2 per cent
  • Religion: 1 per cent

MOM said that a majority of the people who felt that they were discriminated because of their age were in their 40s or older, and they said that these incidents were mostly related to career development, salary-related matters and promotion opportunities.


When it came to people seeking jobs last year, they felt that they were discriminated on the basis of their age — this was the top reason given. The second most common reason was whether they were mothers or not. 

Age was similarly the top reason given in 2018, followed by pregnancy status. Motherhood was ranked as the fourth reason, with the third place being held by reasons related to nationality.

The following were the reasons for discrimination for jobseekers, ranked from the most common to the least.

1. Age
2021: 18.9 per cent
2018: 30.4 per cent

2. With children
2021: 6.9 per cent
2018: 13.9 per cent

3. Race
2021: 6.3 per cent
2018: 11 per cent

4. Nationality
2021: 6.2 per cent
2018: 14.2 per cent

5. Gender
2021:4.4 per cent
2018: 9.5 per cent

6. Pregnancy status
2021: 4.2 per cent
2018: 23.1 per cent

7. Marital status
2021: 3.2 per cent
2018: 7.9 per cent

8. Religion
2021: 2.8 per cent
2018: 6.9 per cent

9. Mental health condition
2021: 2.9 per cent
2018: This data was not collected for the year

As for the main source of the respondents’ perceived feelings of discrimination during their job searches last year, MOM said that it was because of job advertisements (43.3 per cent) that stated a preference for applicants of a specific demographic “without justification”.

Other sources of perceived feelings of discrimination among jobseekers were:

  • Not being shortlisted for the job because of an applicant’s demographic profile: 29 per cent
  • Being asked by an employer for personal information that is irrelevant to the job: 19.5 per cent
  • Being offered a smaller role than what was applied for due to the applicant’s demographic profile: 14.8 per cent
  • Listening to an employer making derogatory remarks about a specific demographic profile during the job interview: 13.8 per cent


When it came to the matter of whether organisations had formal procedures to manage workplace discrimination, the survey found that there was only a modest improvement from four years ago.

In 2021, 54 per cent of respondents said that their employers had such measures in place, up slightly from 49.6 per cent in 2018.

These procedures included the development of a prevention policy, having internal feedback channels and educating employees on such processes.

However, MOM said that the reasons for the minor improvement in last year’s data could be because employees were just not aware that their companies had such procedures in place, and not necessarily because the companies did not have them.

Among those who experienced workplace discrimination last year, only one in five reported the incident to their organisation or union — a figure that was roughly the same as in 2018.

For workers who remained silent, the top three reasons given were:

  • Fear of being marginalised at work or making work relations awkward: 18.9 per cent
  • Feeling that the issue was not severe enough: 15.4 per cent
  • Fear of impact on professional career or future job opportunities: 15 per cent

The last of the nine reasons given was a lack of proper procedures for raising such cases within the organisation (2.6 per cent).


The results of the survey were also presented to selected professionals, managers and executives during a virtual dialogue organised by the Singapore Government's feedback unit Reach on Tuesday evening.

Forming part of the panel were Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, and Mr Patrick Tay, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

The panel was also composed of members from the Singapore National Employers Federation and the Singapore Human Resource Institute.

In his opening remarks, Dr Koh said that the tripartite committee on workplace fairness is looking at how the authorities can design legislative measures to focus on some of these frequently reported areas of discrimination.

However, in doing so, he said “we need to make sure that we don't end up overburdening both employers and employees to a very laborious process of going through investigation”.

Dr Koh added that sometimes, the reported discrimination could very well just be a perception and not a deliberate act. In such cases, they can be settled through a simple conversation.

“This is the reason why we keep putting mediation as…the first line of call,” he said. “Then you realise the issue was a problem of miscommunication.”

In any case, some participants highlighted their own experiences with discrimination. They cannot be named because the session was held under Chatham House Rules.

Chatham House Rules dictate that when a meeting is bound by the rules, participants are free to use the information received but cannot reveal the identity of the speaker.

One participant talked about her difficulties in finding a job as an older jobseeker, and said that she even tried applying for a position with a government agency but was rejected.

She suggested that the Public Service, or “some big organisations” could take the lead in tackling ageism by being “silver ambassadors”. She said this could mean setting targets on the number of mature workers to interview.

Another participant said that some Singaporean men with National Service (NS) obligations might feel that they are discriminated by hiring managers who never had to serve the nation.

A participant had also raised the perennial bugbear of most jobseekers — being asked what their last drawn salary was when they do not see the relevance of it.

On this, Dr Koh said that the tripartite committee had plenty of views on this and they were still looking into the issue.

As for the first two points, Dr Koh said that if employers keep it up, the reality of Singapore’s demographics will “sink in”.

Although he did not address the point about the Public Service, Dr Koh said that with an ageing population, employers will soon “find no workers left” if they keep seeking out younger employees, because the bulk of the workforce will soon be above 40, and probably closer to 60.

“The Government will continue to try (and address the issue of ageism)... but it will be a societal shift that will need to take time to evolve. In the meantime, we'll keep plugging at it (through mid-career schemes and other measures).”

On the issue related to National Service, the panel members said that it was worth thinking about it.

Dr Koh again pointed out that with the tight labour market, there are not many candidates left if employers “do not want to hire Singaporean men because they have to do National Service”.

“What you’ll have left is just women,” he said. Still, in the event that such instances occur, they should be brought up to Tafep.

Dr Koh also said that there will be plenty of challenges ahead for companies which do not fulfil their quota to hire Singaporeans, particularly with the recently announced Complementarity Assessment Framework, where they will not be able to hire a foreigner.

“I think that's going to constrain the employers significantly, if they want to weed out 50 per cent of the population who has to do National Service and not hire Singaporean men. I think that will be quite a tough call.”

Related topics

MOM Tafep workplace discrimination pregnant older workers employers jobseekers

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