27 February 2023

On 13 February 2023, the Ministry of Manpower (“MOM”) announced that the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness (“Committee”) has released its interim report on recommendations for workplace fairness legislation (“WFL”). The Committee was formed in July 2021 to review the workplace fairness framework in Singapore.

The Committee recommends retaining the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (“TGFEP”) to uphold overarching principles of fair and merit-based employment and oppose all forms of discrimination at the workplace, while introducing legislation to prohibit the common and familiar forms of discrimination in Singapore and 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 Tribunals (“ECT”) if mediation fails. The WFL will also provide for a broader range of sanctions and penalties enabling MOM to take appropriate enforcement action.

The framework for workplace fairness, comprising both the WFL and TGFEP, will support Singapore’s key social and economic objectives and promote greater participation in the workforce by mature workers, women, persons with disabilities.

The Committee is seeking feedback on its recommendations over a one-month period following the release of the interim report. Feedback can be directed to https://go.gov.sg/tcwfinterimfeedback.

The following is a summary of the Committee’s recommendations. 

Strengthen protections against workplace discrimination 

  • Prohibit workplace discrimination relating to (i) age, (ii) nationality, (iii) sex, marital status, pregnancy status, caregiving responsibilities, (iv) race, religion, language, and (v) disability and mental health conditions (“protected characteristics”).
  • Retain and enhance the TGFEP to work in concert with legislation.
  • Cover all stages of employment, i.e. pre-employment (e.g. recruitment), in-employment (e.g. promotion, performance appraisal, training selection) and end-employment (e.g. dismissal) (“employment decisions”).
  • Prohibit the use of words or phrases in job advertisements that indicate a preference based on any protected characteristic.
  • Legislate the job advertisement requirement for 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 harassment.
  • Update the TGFEP to provide protection against discrimination for workers engaged in work through service buyers (e.g. property management companies) and intermediaries (e.g. platform companies providing matching services).

Provisions to support business/organisational needs and national objectives

  • Allow employers to consider a protected characteristic in employment decisions if it is a genuine and reasonable job requirement.
  • Exempt small firms with fewer than 25 employees from the WFL, with a view to tightening this exemption in five years.
  • Allow religious organisations to make employment decisions based on religion and religious requirements (i.e. conformity with religious beliefs and practices).
  • Allow employers to favour persons with disabilities and seniors (55 years and above) over other groups in hiring decisions, even if another candidate may be equally or more qualified. 

 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 the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) continues to provide advice and assistance to workers who experience discrimination and advise employers on improving employment practices.
  • Ensure that unions continue to play a constructive role in dispute resolution for workplace fairness. Allow unions to support their members in the claims process similar to other employment claims today.

 Ensuring fair outcomes through redress for victims of workplace discrimination and more 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 S$5,000 for pre-employment claims, and up to S$20,000 for non-union members and S$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 concurrent investigations on claims that involve suspected serious 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 breach.

Reference materials

The following materials are available on the MOM website www.mom.gov.sg: