'Fair employment' must go beyond nationality

'Fair employment' must go beyond nationality

EMPLOYMENT must be fair.

This simple imperative lies at the heart of the Fair Consideration Framework recently announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). The new policy takes aim against nationality- based discrimination in employment decisions.

But its implications go far beyond the single lens of citizenship.

Two important principles underlie this new framework.

The first is the Government's implicit understanding that in order to tackle discriminatory employers, it is not enough to leave the market to itself. Proactive intervention, through both legislation and ongoing administrative monitoring, is necessary to stamp out problematic human resources practices and ensure all employees are treated fairly.

Moreover, as the Government has acknowledged, such safeguards are compatible with maintaining a dynamic and competitive economy.

Second, the Government's approach recognises that mandating formal processes can produce shifts in business culture.

The specific mechanisms of a job bank and MOM scrutiny are not ends in themselves. Rather, they give structure and force to a wider change in employer mindset. "Fair consideration" is to be a pervasive ethos informing every level of corporate decision-making.

These insights deserve wider application.

After all, employment discrimination takes many forms - besides nationality, job-seekers and workers may receive unfair treatment due to their age, race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability and religion. Consider the cases of pregnant employees dismissed without sufficient cause, or the complaints of older workers who feel stigmatised.

Aware's helpline regularly receives complaints of workplace discrimination based on gender, including sexual harassment. Our 2008 survey of 500 people found that 54 per cent of respondents had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment, and that 79 per cent of these victims were female.

This suggests that many people in Singapore experience work environments that, far from embodying "fair employment", are explicitly hostile to and unsafe for women.

As a state party to the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Singapore has a particular duty to remedy this situation.

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