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NDR 2021: Govt to introduce laws against workplace discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender and disability

SINGAPORE — A set of guidelines on workplace discrimination will be enshrined into law to give the authorities more teeth and expand the range of actions they can take against errant companies.

Announcing this on Sunday (Aug 29) during the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said these laws will better protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender, and disability.

Announcing this on Sunday (Aug 29) during the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said these laws will better protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender, and disability.

  • A set of guidelines on workplace discrimination will soon become law
  • They will better protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender and disability
  • Still, PM Lee Hsien Loong urged Singaporeans to be more open to foreigners 
  • Singapore cannot turn its back on foreigners, who must also make the effort to fit in, he added

 

SINGAPORE — A set of guidelines on workplace discrimination will be enshrined into law to give the authorities more teeth and expand the range of actions they can take against errant companies.

Announcing this on Sunday (Aug 29) during the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that these laws will better protect workers against discrimination based on nationality, age, race, gender and disability.

Describing this as a “major move”, Mr Lee added: “It signals that we do not tolerate discrimination at workplaces.” 

“But in practice, we hope to operate in a similar way as today, except better. We should still resolve workplace disputes informally and amicably, if at all possible.”

Although the Government is making moves to protect workers from discrimination, Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to be open to living with and accepting others “who are not exactly like us”.

At the same time, foreigners who come here must also “accept the ethos and norms of our society and make the effort to fit in,” he said, noting that most work pass holders and their families fit in quite well here.

“We need to ease the social frictions that arise from being ‘same same but different’. Both sides need to make the effort.” 

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REMAINING OPEN

The move to legislate against workplace discrimination comes after repeated calls made by Members of Parliament for fairer hiring practices here through improved standards and practices of human resource departments, and stiffer enforcement and penalties against firms with discriminatory hiring practices.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung recently made ministerial statements in Parliament addressing free trade agreements, and in particular, the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, following growing concerns that bringing in foreign manpower and entering into trade deals with other countries would harm the interests of citizens here.

In his rally speech, Mr Lee noted that these concerns are based on individual lived experiences, which are “more personal and emotional” and relate to worries over having to compete against work pass holders for jobs and opportunities at the workplace.

While such concerns over foreign labour are a “delicate subject” for a National Day Rally, Mr Lee said that it is necessary to acknowledge these issues to address Singaporeans’ “legitimate concerns and diffuse resentments over foreigners”.

To do so, Singaporeans must first be assured that Employment Pass and S Pass holders are of the right standard.

This can be assessed from how much the employer is prepared to pay for these workers, which is why the Government has set salary cut-offs for them.

The Employment Pass is for foreign professionals, managers and executives. Candidates need to earn at least $4,500 a month and have acceptable qualifications. The S Pass is for mid-level skilled foreign workers. Candidates need to earn at least $2,500 a month and have the relevant qualifications and work experience. 

Mr Lee added that the Government will continue to tighten the criteria for Employment Pass and S Pass holders over time, but this will be done “gradually and progressively”, so as to not hurt businesses.

It will also ensure that work pass holders come into the sectors where they are most needed and “we won’t be flooded with more than we can absorb, doing jobs for which Singaporeans are qualified and available,” he said.

He stressed that Singapore cannot turn its back on foreigners and give them the impression that it is becoming xenophobic and hostile to foreigners.

“It would gravely damage our reputation as an international hub. It would cost us investments, jobs and opportunities… And it is not who we aspire to be.” 

He noted that foreigners in Singapore add strength to its workforce and many of them have also worked on the front lines during the pandemic “shoulder-to-shoulder with Singaporeans”.

Singapore does not only face competition from foreigners living here, but from people all over the world, Mr Lee said. 

This is especially given the rise of remote working opportunities that have become more popular among companies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Therefore, Singapore must continue to be open in order to continue to make progress as a nation.

“It is not just our policies which have to be outward and forward-looking, but also our mindsets and values as a people,” he said.

“We must make it crystal clear to the world that Singapore is determined to stay open, in order to earn a living for ourselves.”

NEW TRIBUNAL TO BE SET UP

A new tribunal will be set up to deal with cases relating to workplace discrimination that fall under the new laws, said Mr Lee.

The new body will be modelled after the Government’s approach to dealing with disputes relating to salary claims and wrongful dismissals under the Employment Claims Tribunal.

Similar to those claims, workers and employers will be encouraged to settle workplace discrimination disputes through mediation and conciliation first.

Elaborating on this, Mr Lee said legal redress should be considered only as a “last recourse” — “one which is seldom needed, but because it is there and you can go there, the parties will work harder to settle the dispute through conciliation and mediation”. 

Therefore, matters will be escalated to the tribunal only if all amicable and informal means of resolving the issue fail.

Related topics

National Day Rally workplace discrimination Tafep Jobs employer foreign talent

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