Managing discrimination: Room for improvement in workplaces says MOM

MOM is looking into how to design legislative measures to tackle bias

Managing discrimination: Room for improvement in workplaces says MOM

A survey from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has found that workplace discrimination has fallen significantly in Singapore but there is room for improvement around the way businesses manage discrimination in the workplace.

In his opening remarks at a virtual panel on the results of the survey, senior minister of state for manpower, Dr Koh Poh Koon said the tripartite committee on workplace fairness is looking into how to design legislative measures to focus on some of the more frequently reported areas of discrimination without overburdening employers and employees with laborious investigation.

The survey on fair employment practices, released on Wednesday (March 23) had a sample of over 3000 respondents and was representative of Singapore’s resident workforce. It found that 8% of employees reported experiencing workplace discrimination last year, a sharp drop from the 24% that reported workplace discrimination in MOMs last survey in 2018.

However, businesses that have formal procedures in place to manage discrimination increased less than 5%, with only one in two employees reporting their employer has formal processes to deal with discrimination which signals the need for more employers to create safe workplace environments for victims to seek help. Koh said that the tripartite committee is considering ways to ensure grievance handling procedures are in as many companies as possible. “Even as we look at enshrining the guidelines into legislation, what we don’t want to do is end up with a litigious workplace culture… we want to make sure mediation remains at the forefront.”

Only 1 in 5 people who faced discrimination in the workplace reported it in 2001, most of whom (around 79%), reported it through their organisation or union. Reasons from the 80% of people who hadn’t reported discrimination varied, some feared being marginalised, or making work relations awkward, some felt the issue wasn’t severe enough and others worried it would impact their future career and job opportunities.

The top reported reason for discrimination was age. 4.6% of people who reported discrimination citied age as the reason, this increased to a staggering 18.9% when applied to job seekers only. Respondents who reported age discrimination were mainly aged 40 and over. Koon sent a stark warning on ageism to employers during the virtual panel, “if they keep it up, the reality of Singapore’s demographics will sink in”, said Koh, referring to Singapore’s ageing population which will soon see the bulk of the workforce be above 40, and probably closer to 60.

After age, other personal attributes discriminated against were, pregnancy status (3.7%), mental health condition (3.2%), race (2.8%), gender (2.1%), disability (2.1%), nationality (1.9%), with children (1.5%), marital status (1.2%) and religion (1%). Mental Health was a new addition to this year’s survey after increased awareness of the topic over the last couple of years.

The proportion of people who reported discrimination while seeking employment also fell, from 43% in 2018 to 25% in 2021. Pregnancy status discrimination saw the largest decline in this area.

Ang Boon Heng, director of manpower research and statistics at MOM, cited the efforts that MOM and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) have put in to correcting stereotypes, raising awareness, and promoting fair employment practices over the last three years as the main reason for the big drop in workplace discrimination. Another contributing factor was Singapore’s tight labour market which has forced employers to place less emphasis on their preferences for certain demographic profiles.

The survey has historically been conducted every three to four years but a clear focus on discrimination from the ministry meant that moving forward MOM will be conducting the survey annually. Koon indicated the commission’s research would be finished by the end of the year so it looks like change may be on the way. Between possible future discrimination legislation and the recently introduced Complementarity Assessment Framework employers have a lot to keep abreast of.

Recent articles & video

Should companies be offering hot weather leaves?

Individual facing community service for managing unlicensed employment agency in Hong Kong

China leads in generative AI adoption worldwide

Engineer fired for objecting to DEI training: reports

Most Read Articles

Singapore launches cybersecurity skills pathway amid global shortage

Malaysian university ordered to pay over RM530,000 for 'unfairly' retrenching two academics

Introducing Asia's most innovative HR teams