I refer to the recently released interim report of the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness. PSP has high hopes of the Committee, which was set up just before our debate on Foreign Talent Policy in September 2021, but we have found the interim report to be inadequate in at least two areas. We hope the Committee will consider and incorporate our views in the final report.
First, there is inadequate focus on the job security of Singaporeans.
The report noted that the most common form of workplace discrimination is nationality which accounts for close to 60% of the complaints received by TAFEP. As it is quite unlikely that foreigners would complain about discrimination when they have no automatic right to work in Singapore, many of these complaints must be from Singaporeans complaining that foreigners have been preferred. Workplace discrimination against Singaporeans is thus prevalent.
I hope the new legislation would enforce meaningful changes in the quality, number, and concentration of foreign work pass holders that the Government, including the Prime Minister, have identified as potential problems in July 2021.
Stronger action can be taken to ensure that our workplaces remain diverse. MOM should consider imposing diversity quotas, or limits on the total percentage of a company’s workforce that may be from a certain foreign nationality. This will be a stronger safeguard than COMPASS in ensuring that our workplaces do not become communal enclaves where one foreign nationality is favoured over others.
To complement that policy, we should also take out Recommendation No. 9 which provides exemption for SMEs that employ less than 25 employees. This is a potential loophole that will allow larger companies to set up subsidiaries that employ one local and 24 foreign PMETs.
The PSP has also repeatedly urged the Government to introduce a $1,200 monthly levy on Employment Pass holders. This is urgently needed to level the playing field for Singaporean PMEs because employers will have to pay more and more CPF contributions for Singaporeans as the Ordinary Wage ceiling is raised, making Singaporeans less competitive on wages compared to foreigners.
The second area that I am concerned about is the secular nature of our workplace and employment laws.
Everyone should be free to practice their religion but this should not hinder anyone else from earning a living.
I noted Recommendation No. 10 in the interim report that religious organisations should be allowed to make employment decisions based on religion and religious requirements for all workers. This appears to be a reversal of MOM’s stance in 2013. At that time, a pregnant church employee was sacked in the seventh month of her pregnancy because she had conceived the child in an extra-marital relationship against church teachings. MOM intervened to secure compensation for her because employment law had been violated. MOM also stressed that workplaces must be preserved as a secular space in Singapore. Thus, I hope the Minister can clarify how Recommendation No. 10 is aligned with MOM’s stance in 2013, or whether MOM’s stance has changed since then.
If Recommendation No. 10 is adopted, then I would like to call on the Government to include sexual orientation as a protected category in the anti-discrimination law. This is in line with the spirit of repealing Section 377A and will better protect LGBT workers from discrimination based on their sexuality, which still exist in Singapore. LGBT workers should be allowed to earn a living on a level playing field based on merit like anyone else in Singapore.
Finally, I would like the Government to elaborate on actions it has taken since October 2022 to ensure that employers without genuine occupational requirements no longer practice VDS or vaccination differentiated measures. Is the employment rate of unvaccinated citizens back on par with vaccinated citizens for each age group?
Mr Chairman, workplace fairness is an important issue and PSP is glad that the Government will be enshrining this in law next year. But when drafting the law, I hope the Government will enforce a level playing field for Singaporeans and ensure that workplaces remain secular.
Singaporeans deserve better.
For Country For People.