This is how Singapore reduces employment discrimination

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Whilst employment discrimination is a problem that has existed for a long time, Singapore has its own way of dealing with it. Discrimination is an act that is very, very easy to disguise – one does not need to announce it, one just needs to do nothing. Because of this, effective policies to counter this requires more than just legislation. It requires a lot of work, education and correction.

1. Employment agencies must know how to identify discriminatory advertising

To start with, before an employment agency can get a licence to do business, the director and all its staff must sit for a test. In this test, the staff must know how to identify discriminatory behaviour and advertisements. This is important because agencies are the ones conducting recruitment on behalf of companies and getting them to stop discriminatory behaviour is a major step. Employment agencies are equally expected to uphold the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices and the FCF when they undertake work for their clients.

This measure is very effective and soon, MOM will be looking into strengthening measures against discriminatory employment agencies.

2. Education and outreach

The Ministry of Manpower together with the NTUC has a lot of material and publicity campaigns that seek to tell employers to hire based on merit and to avoid discriminatory hiring practices. Education is important because it stems out the behaviour from the outset. Some old-fashioned employers don’t even know it is wrong to discriminate. 

Have a look at the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices site.

3. Fair Considerations framework

The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) sets out requirements for all employers in Singapore to consider the workforce in Singapore fairly for job opportunities. To promote fair employment practices and improve labour market transparency, employers submitting Employment Pass applications must first advertise on and fairly consider all candidates. 

MOM proactively identifies employers with indications of discriminatory hiring practices and places them on the FCF Watchlist for closer scrutiny. Employers which have history of complaints or hiring practices that differ significantly from industry peers are closely scrutinised. MOM watches Employment Pass applications from employers on the FCF Watchlist. At the same time, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) engages these employers to help them improve their HR practices. Uncooperative employers may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

MOM has raised the penalties for all discrimination cases (for stronger deterence). Companies caught in breach will be barred from hiring foreigners for 12 months (up from 6 months) and a maximum of 24 months will be imposed for egregious cases.

4. Existing legislation 

There are existing legislations to protect employees from discriminatory practices. For example, our employment laws currently protect employees against wrongful dismissal on discriminatory grounds

If companies falsify information when submitting to the Ministry of Manpower, it is a serious offence that attracts a jail term of up to two years, fined up to $20,000, or both under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. In fact, this has just happened today: Ti2 Logistics Pte Ltd has been charged by the MOM for falsely declaring it considered hiring locals over foreigners.

Has it worked?

Our employment rate of older workers (55-64) higher than in some countries with anti-discrimination laws. It has also recently been reported that gender inequality has narrowed. Errant employers are finding themselves barred from hiring foreign workers; a move that can retard their ability to grow.

The Minister of Manpower had noted that there has been a decrease in discriminatory hiring practices. For employers  who have failed to adapt, penalties have been stepped up to further deter and stamp out such practices.

What will not work?

Policies and legislation need to be effective. Although in some countries there is some sort of “Anti-Discrimination Act”, all it has done is to drive practices underground. Some countries have also experienced unintended consequences against the groups the laws seeks to protect – employers simply don’t hire the discriminated groups at all, for fear that their actions during employment could be misconstrued as unlawful.

Also, it needs to be emphases that enforcement of such legislation is near impossible.

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