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Singapore advances fair workplace legislation

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New recommendations aim to combat discrimination

The Singaporean government has officially accepted the final recommendations put forth by the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (TCWF), aiming to enhance workplace fairness and protect employees from discrimination. The TCWF initially published 20 recommendations in an interim report in February 2023.

In collaboration with tripartite partners, including The Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), the government is committed to implementing these recommendations starting in 2024.

The legislative framework, once enacted, will comprehensively cover all stages of employment, encompassing in-, post-, and pre-employment periods, with a special focus on addressing discrimination complaints that predominantly arise during the pre-employment phase, according to MOM.

The legislation aims to safeguard workers and jobseekers against unfair and discriminatory practices based on specific protected characteristics, namely nationality, age, sex, marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, race, language, religion, disability, and mental health conditions. However, it will not include provisions for sexual orientation, gender identity, and criminal history.

To refine the legislation further, the TCWF proposed two additional recommendations. Firstly, they suggested the importance of a clear definition for ‘discrimination’ to facilitate employers and employees in understanding the law’s coverage. In response, the committee recommended defining ‘discrimination’ as ‘making an adverse employment decision because of any protected characteristic’.

Secondly, the TCWF advised that the legislation should solely encompass direct acts of discrimination, as including indirect discrimination would impose extensive legal obligations on employers. Indirect discrimination refers to seemingly neutral company practices that unintentionally put individuals with specific protected characteristics at a disadvantage. The committee proposed that such cases be handled through the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, allowing employers and employees to find reasonable resolutions for disputes.

Additionally, the TCWF recommended the issuance of a Tripartite Advisory focusing on providing reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The committee believed that mandating such accommodations through legislation might lead to a more litigious workplace environment. Instead, they suggested that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) should intervene to achieve better outcomes for employees with disabilities and employers.

The government is mindful of keeping the legislation’s scope restricted for the time being, with the proposed characteristics covering 95% of all discrimination complaints received by MOM and TAFEP, offering protection to 75% of all workers in Singapore.

In tandem with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP), the legislation aims to provide comprehensive protection against all forms of discrimination. To allow smaller companies sufficient time to adapt to the changes and bolster their human resource capabilities, they will be exempted from the legislation for the first five years.

Minister of Manpower, Tan See Leng, emphasized that the Workplace Fairness Legislation (WFL) intends to prohibit common forms of discrimination experienced in Singapore, including age, sex, family status, race, nationality, and mental health. The approach seeks to provide redress to victims of discrimination while promoting workplace harmony and preserving relationships.

The TCWF believes that these recommendations will foster a positive workplace culture in Singapore, avoiding an overly litigious atmosphere. Nonetheless, the committee highlighted that the legislation alone cannot eradicate workplace discrimination, stressing the importance of education to challenge stereotypes and sustain fair employment practices.

The Singaporean government is committed to collaborating closely with its tripartite partners to implement these recommendations in 2024, fostering a fair and inclusive work environment for all.

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