Synopsis

During 2022, the Singapore Government looks set to enshrine into law some or all of the principles currently contained in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices in relation to workplace discrimination. With the introduction of Singapore’s first workplace discrimination legislation and a newly formed discrimination tribunal, the TGFEP will finally receive their missing teeth – find out what it means for your business operations in Singapore.

Article

In his 2021 National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the Singapore Government will enshrine into law some or all of the principles currently contained in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (the TGFEP). A draft bill is expected to be announced in the first half of 2022.

The TGFEP are a set of best practice guidelines for Singapore employers to adopt to prevent discrimination at the workplace. They cover a range of topics including recruitment, HR systems, training and reward. At their heart is the principle of hiring and developing a Singaporean core, which encourages employers to make reasonable efforts to attract and consider local Singaporeans for job positions on merit and for training and development purposes.

Singapore does not currently have any legislation which expressly prohibits workplace discrimination per se. While there is some limited protection in a handful of narrow areas (wrongful dismissal, pregnancy dismissal, retirement and reemployment, and enlistment discrimination), there are no direct remedies available for employees who have been subjected to discrimination on the grounds of attributes which may be protected in other countries such as race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

With the introduction of legislation, the TGFEP will finally receive their missing teeth. Employees in Singapore will for the first time likely be able to take legal action directly against their employers for discrimination that happens in the workplace.

In terms of resolving disputes, the Prime Minister confirmed that the approach will be modelled on how employers currently deal with disputes over salaries and wrongful dismissal. This means that disputes will first go through a process of conciliation and mediation, and only if these are unsuccessful will they be determined judicially. A new workplace discrimination tribunal will be established to decide such cases.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the new legislation will protect employees not only on the ground of nationality or race, but also on other grounds covered by the TGFEP including sex, age, race, religion and disabilities.

We still do not have all the details of the proposal and a number of questions still remain including:

  • Will the new law only prohibit discrimination or will it also extend to harassment?
  • Will the protections extend to grounds not currently recognised by the TGFEP such as sexual orientation?
  • How will the new law interact with the wrongful dismissal guidelines?
  • How will the workplace discrimination tribunal be constituted and what remedies can an employee seek from their employer?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the introduction of Singapore’s first workplace discrimination legislation will expand the scope of protections for employees in Singapore. Employers should start preparing for change now by reviewing their existing discrimination and harassment policies to ensure they not only meet the minimum requirements under the current Singapore legal framework, but that they actively promote and protect attributes prescribed by the TGFEP such as gender, race, nationality, age, religion and disability. Multinational corporations may already be doing this in practice as they tend to adopt global standards which go above and beyond the local minimum legal framework.