Even in this day and age where inclusivity and equality are constantly being emphasised, it is unfortunate that there still remains some types of workplace discrimination and stereotyping. 8% of employees experienced workplace discrimination in 2021, lower than 24% in 2018. According to Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng, between 2014 and the first half of 2021, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) received an average of 379 workplace discrimination complaints each year. Age-based discrimination was found to be the most common form of discrimination, followed by pregnancy and mental health condition.
Employment discrimination could create a hostile environment for the workers who are being discriminated against and also leave workers feeling vulnerable. As society continues to progress, it’s important to recognise discrimination and more importantly, stem such practices.
NTUC has been working to ensure that all workers are treated fairly based on merit. The upcoming new workplace fairness laws, which NTUC has a key role in shaping, will provide greater assurance of fairness and justice to all workers. NTUC members are not alone in navigating issues of discrimination (which can be complicated and challenging) faced at work.
Here are some of the more common types of discrimination a worker could experience:
One of the most common types of discrimination and one that dates back decades is that of gender discrimination. This is evidenced by the gender pay gap that exists globally between males and females doing the same job roles. Even in Singapore, there is a discrepancy in pay between female workers and their male counterparts. A study by the National Trades Union Congress and the People’s Action Party (PAP) also found that 23% of respondents felt that gender discrimination was prevalent in the workplace and that women had a higher chance of being passed over for promotions or career advancements.
Over the course of the years, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) has received complaints from women, some of whom felt discriminated against due to their pregnancies. While society has come a long way in fighting for gender equality, there is certainly more that can be done to better empower women in the workplace.
Racial discrimination can come in the form of direct discrimination where even the job description outlines certain criteria such as “Indian preferred” or “only Japanese need apply”. In the workplace itself, there could be various forms of “casual racism” such as making racist jokes, speaking in a language that minority races might not understand or stereotyping based on race.
Discrimination based on race or ethnicity is more commonly felt by the minority races. A study commissioned by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) of 1,000 respondents found that 89% of respondents from the minority race faced racial discrimination, highlighting how prevalent this is in the workplace.
With Singapore gradually becoming an aging population, more and more of Singapore’s workforce will continue to have workers who are older. There is sometimes a stereotype of older workers being “slower”, “not as tech-savvy”, “not as productive” etc when compared with younger workers. This could result in discrimination against older workers where certain promotions or workstreams are not accorded to them because of these perceived stereotypes.
That said, the perception of older workers is somewhat changing, with both employers and employees recognising them for their experience, loyalty to the company and sense of responsibility. Ultimately, workers should be judged on their quality of work and not their age.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Singapore is generally a more conservative society and some employers might not be as comfortable with workers having non-traditional mindsets when it comes to sexual orientation. Workers who have a sexual orientation divergent from the majority might face workplace harassment such as offensive or derogatory terms being used on them or wrongful denial of opportunities.
With the latest repeal of Section 377A reflecting the gradual shifts in society, organisations should also take the cue to ensure workplaces are inclusive and harassment free.
Disabilities discrimination can range from more subtle forms to overt actions including managing out a worker with disabilities by making workplace conditions unbearable, passing them over for promotions or allowing workplace harassment.
To make workplaces more suitable for workers with disabilities, employers should make reasonable accommodations such as providing accessible entrances and toilets, providing desks that can accommodate wheelchairs, software to assist with hearing or visual impairments and allowing flexible scheduling so workers can seek medical treatment if necessary. These small steps go a long way in helping workers with disabilities assimilate into the workplace.
Respect all workers
Workers should not be denied career advancement opportunities or be treated differently because of their differences – with employers, individuals and society at large moving towards fostering progressive workplaces. Indeed, all workers, regardless of their job scope and differences, deserve to be respected. If you have any workplace concerns, share them here!