Watchdog to widen scope to help overworked and older workers

BUDGET DEBATE

WORKERS who are overworked or who face prejudices because of their age will soon be able to take their grievances to Singapore's anti-discrimination body.

After eight years of protecting employees from unfair labour practices based on gender, race, language and nationality, the watchdog is widening its scope, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi said on Friday.

Singaporeans now want "more space to pursue other goals and priorities outside of work", he said. Older citizens and disabled persons are also still concerned about discriminatory employment practices, he observed.

"We believe that good and more progressive workplace practices will not only mean better jobs and quality of life for Singaporeans, but also help companies attract and retain more local employees, which is important amidst foreign manpower tightening," he said.

These new areas will be covered by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), which will continue its approach of promotion and education. This, despite several MPs calling for Tafep to be given more teeth through anti-discrimination legislation.

Such laws, said Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), would "carry a strong moral force". He also pushed for a labour tribunal to be set up.

Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) suggested making Tafep a full statutory board or a regulatory agency, saying: "Today, many people see (it) as a lightweight organisation..."

In response, Mr Hawazi said it remains difficult to prove discrimination, pointing to the experiences of other countries.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is also exploring "an expeditious and affordable avenue for dispute resolution". To meet the needs of a diverse workforce, MOM is also looking to improve the Work-Life Grant, said Mr Hawazi. It provides firms with up to $160,000 over three years when they introduce flexi-work.

Tafep will also scale up its operations in the next year to cover such work-life harmony.

"The expanded Tafep will therefore retain its original purpose of promoting fair employment practices, even as it takes on this expanded role," he said.

joseow@sph.com.sg

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