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The call for workplace anti-discrimination laws in Singapore is gathering pace as politicians propose more protection against discriminatory actions.

Manpower minister Tan See Leng said in Parliament on July 26 that he is setting up a tripartite committee to look into whether legislation is the “best policy option” to deal with workplace discrimination.

A few days later, on July 29, the ruling People's Action Party’s (PAP) women’s wing and youth wing called for workplace anti-discrimination laws and full flexibility for couples to share parental leave in a joint paper.

They proposed to help women balance their career advancement with family obligations, as well as promote more equal sharing of caregiving between men and women.

There is a total of 12 recommendations aimed at improving women’s development in Singapore in the joint paper.

What’s behind the calls for workplace anti-discrimination laws in Singapore?

  • The Singapore government announced in September 2020 that it was embarking on a comprehensive review of issues related to women and gender equality after being urged to do so by activists and the opposition party, The Workers’ Party (WP).

  • In its manifesto for the 2020 general election WP had urged the government to address the gender wage gap, recognize unpaid labor, introduce shared parental leave and support the re-entry of mothers into the workforce.

  • Tan said MOM will now ensure that Singaporeans are considered fairly for employment opportunities, noting that penalties for all forms of workplace discrimination were recently stiffened.

  • He said that beyond nationality-based discrimination, Singapore must also tackle other types of discrimination, including on grounds of sex, age, race, religion and disabilities. Tan added the ministry is not closed to suggestions to legislating against discriminatory practices.

  • However, Tan cautioned if the legal framework is “overly onerous”, it will deter employers from doing business in Singapore. The ministry will therefore set up a tripartite committee to examine if legislation is the best way forward.

  • The PAP’s joint paper noted that existing frameworks, such as those under the Employment Act, offer women some protection against discriminatory actions such as being dismissed without cause while pregnant.

  • However, it said more needs to be done to further reduce workplace discrimination, such as legislating the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to allow for stronger enforcement of these practices.

  • “Women still face discrimination at their workplaces. They say they are passed over for promotions or not given opportunities because they are thought to be not able to perform because they have to take care of their kids once they get married and get pregnant,” said Rahayu Mahzam, the member of parliament for Jurong Group Representative Constituency.

  • The paper also recommended scaling up movements including SG Women in Tech to encourage girls and young women to enter and progress in growth sectors, and also a proposal for the government, organizations and employers to work together to develop support packages and networks for women who wish to re-enter the workforce and rebuild their careers after taking a break to care for their children, for instance.

  • It also called for the shift of the burden of caregiving in a more equitable direction while bolstering support for caregivers. The paper said the cap on the number of days of maternity leave that can be converted to paternity leave should be removed to give couples the freedom to decide which parent is best suited to caring for their young children.

  • The paper recommended boosting the existing Home Caregiving Grant and creating a new financial aid scheme to help caregivers getting the grant with their own retirement needs.