MOM: Legislating workplace fairness should promote a harmonious workplace culture, not a litigious one

Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon addresses other concerns regarding the legislation raised by Labour MPs in parliament on 3 July 2023.
By Ian Tan Hanhonn 03 Jul 2023
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The proposed Workplace Fairness Legislation (WFL) is a significant step forward in curbing workplace discrimination and strengthening fair employment practices and outcomes, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon in parliament on 3 July 2023.


The Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness aims to release its final recommendations on the legislation later this year, and the Government hopes to present the proposed legislation by the second half of 2024.


But he noted that the legislation should be a means towards “maintaining a workplace culture that is harmonious and not litigious” and that the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness have strived to be precise in their recommendations to minimise any chance of subjective interpretation.


He added: “We have tried to scope the recommendations more tightly and to the common and familiar forms of discrimination in the first instance. It is better to take a measured first step, let stakeholders adjust to the new rules, before reviewing if more needs to be done.”


During his speech, Dr Koh also addressed other concerns raised by members of parliament regarding the legislation.


Safeguarding workplace harmony


The recommendations proposed by the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness aim to resolve disputes at source wherever possible, emphasising mediation rather than litigation.


“The Committee recommends requiring employers to put in place grievance handling channels to facilitate amicable dispute resolution within the firm,” said Dr Koh.


He was responding to NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay on how the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) plans to minimise any negative impact between employer and employee from the enactment of the WFL.


Dr Koh added: “Mediation at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management will be the next step, with a focus on educating employers on fair employment practices and mending the relationship between employer and employee where possible.


“Adjudication at the Employment Claims Tribunals is the last resort.”


Commonly reported workplace discrimination issues


In response to NTUC Enterprise Co-operative Limited Group CEO Seah Kian Peng’s parliamentary question, Dr Koh shared the most common types of discrimination complaints received by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) over the last five years were about nationality, age, sex, race and language.


He also noted that TAFEP and MOM still receive around 315 discrimination complaints a year over the last half-decade, but that the number is lower than that of the preceding five years.


He said the legislation would work with the existing Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practice (TGFEP) to cover all forms of workplace discrimination.


SMEs are to be granted exemptions for the first five years


SMEs with less than 25 employees will be exempted from the WFL for the first five years when it is enacted, said Dr Koh in response to NTUC U SME Director Yeo Wan Ling’s parliamentary question.


During that time, the Government will work closely with TAFEP and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to help SMEs work towards meeting the requirements of the WFL.


“I encourage smaller firms to work with the partners as early as possible to strengthen their HR capabilities and practices, as well as nurture a fair and harmonious workplace culture … this will contribute to stronger business outcomes,” said Dr Koh.


Although exempted from the legislation, SMEs will still be subjected to the TGFEP, which prohibits all forms of workplace discrimination.


“Anyone who has faced any form of workplace discrimination can approach TAFEP for advice and assistance. Where there is a breach of the TGFEP, TAFEP will report the case to MOM for enforcement action,” said Dr Koh.