On 13 February 2023, the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (the “Committee”) released its interim report with its recommendations for workplace fairness legislation (“WFL”). The committee was formed in July 2021 to review the workplace fairness framework in Singapore.
Presently, the main framework for workplace fairness is found under the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (“TGFEP”). The Committee’s recommendations retain the TGFEP to uphold the overarching principles of fair and merit-based employment and to stand against all forms of discrimination for all employers, while introducing legislation to prohibit the common forms of discrimination in Singapore and to strengthen protection and redress for workers who experience discrimination.
The WFL will provide for mediation as the main avenue to address discrimination complaints, with recourse to the Employment Claims Tribunal (“ECT”) where mediation is unsuccessful. It will further set out a broader range of sanctions and penalties which will empower the Ministry of Manpower to take the appropriate enforcement action where there are breaches of the law.
The legislation is expected to be tabled in Parliament by the second half of 2024. In this regard, it will be important for businesses and human resource leaders to review their current employment practices to ensure that they don’t run foul of the new legislation.
Summary of recommendations
A. Strengthen protections against workplace discrimination
- Prohibit workplace discrimination in respect of the following characteristics: age, nationality, sex, marital status, pregnancy status caregiving responsibilities, race, religion, language, disability and mental health conditions (“protected characteristics”).
- Retain and enhance the TGFEP to work in concert with legislation. The TGFEP will uphold overarching principles of fair and merit-based employment and provide protections against all forms of workplace discrimination.
- Cover all stages of employment from recruitment, promotions and performance appraisals to dismissals (“employment decisions”).
- Prohibit the use of words or phrases in job advertisement which indicate a preference for a protected characteristic.
- Legislate the job requirement for the submission of Employment Pass and S Pass applications under the existing Fair Consideration Framework.
- Prohibit retaliation against those who report cases of workplace discrimination or harrassment.
- Update the TGFEP to provide protection against discrimination for workers engaged in work through service buyers (eg. property management companies) and intermediaries (eg. platform companies providing matching services).
B. Provisions to support business/organisational needs and national objectives
- Allowing employers to consider if a protected characteristic in employment decisions is a genuine and reasonable job requirement.
- Exempt small firms with less than 25 employees from the legislation for a start with a view to tightening this exemption in five years.
- Allow religious organisations to make employment decisions based on religion and religious requirements.
- Allow employers to favour persons with disabilities and seniors (above 55 years old) over other groups in hiring decisions, even if another candidate may be equally or more qualified.
C. Processes for resolving grievances and disputes while preserving workplace harmony
- Require employers to put in place grievance handling processes. Employers should also protect the confidentiality of the identity of persons who report workplace discrimination and harassment, where possible.
- Require compulsory mediation for workplace discrimination claims at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (“TADM”) first, with adjudication at the ECT as a last resort.
- Ensure that unions continue to play a constructive role in dispute resolution for workplace fairness.
D. Ensuring fair outcomes through redress for victims of workplace discrimination, and appropriate penalties for breaches
- Encourage parties to explore non-monetary remedies, such as reinstatement of an employment offer or providing an apology letter, where practicable.
- Allow monetary compensation of up to $5,000 for pre-employment claims and up to $20,000 for non-union members and $30,000 for union assisted claims, for in-employment and end-employment claims.
- Empower the ECT to strike out frivolous or vexatious claims or award costs against such claimants.
- Allow the State to concurrently conduct investigations on claims that involve suspected breaches of the WFL, with a view to taking enforcement action.
- Provide a range of penalties including corrective work orders, financial penalties and work pass curtailment that can be imposed against firms and/or culpable persons, depending on the severity of the breach.
The present TGFEP together with WFL will provide stronger protection against specified forms of workplace discrimination and promote greater participation in the workforce by mature workers, women, persons with disability and/or mental health conditions.
JTJB Singapore Office