Forum: New law needed to tackle discrimination, wrongful dismissal

Office workers are seen at Raffles Place on Sept 8, 2020.
Office workers are seen at Raffles Place on Sept 8, 2020.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The letter, "The little guy who failed to find recourse over termination" (Sept 24), highlights the prevalence of age discrimination in the workplace, and the limitations in recourse options available to employees experiencing discrimination and wrongful dismissal.

From September last year till this month, the Association of Women for Action and Research's Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory (WHDA) received 172 calls, with over a third of them concerning some form of discrimination.

The women WHDA supported lost job opportunities and were denied promotions and reasonable accommodation.

They faced mistrust and suspicion once they got pregnant, became mothers or reached a certain age.

Discouragingly, many had experienced unfair termination, or contemplated resignation as a result of unfavourable work environments.

The Government has taken steps to get employers to act fairly.

Workers may approach the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep). A complaint triggers an investigation, during which Tafep speaks to the employer.

Employers found to be in breach of guidelines are given warnings. Their foreign work pass privileges are curtailed.

This, however, does not provide for a legal remedy for workers directly hit by the discrimination.

Many clients of WHDA explicitly declined to approach Tafep for fear of employer retaliation.

For cases that amount to wrongful dismissal, the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) was set up to resolve claims through mediation, with compensation or reinstatement being possible outcomes.

However, some WHDA clients have reported that their employers refuse to attend mediation, negotiate or settle despite evidence of discriminatory behaviour.

Neither Tafep nor TADM holds employers legally liable for discriminatory acts, or guarantees legal remedy for workers. The onus falls upon workers to look for a new job after being unfairly dismissed.

We urge the Government to enact a Workplace Equality Act that would provide legal remedies for workers experiencing discrimination.

Mamta Melwani

Senior Executive

Workplace Harassment and Discrimination Advisory

Association of Women for Action and Research

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'New law needed to tackle discrimination, wrongful dismissal'. Print Edition | Subscribe