Welcome Address by Mr Douglas Foo, Co-chairperson, Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, and Vice President, Singapore National Employers Federation, at TAFEP’s 10th anniversary celebratory event
16 Nov 2016Speeches
Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower
Dr Robert Yap, President, Singapore National Employers Federation
Mr Heng Chee How, Co-chairperson, TAFEP, and Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. A little more than a year ago, I was invited to take on the job of TAFEP Co-chairperson.
2. After taking some time to think about it, I accepted the invitation.And I assure you, this was not a decision I made lightly. I have taken on this role because I wholeheartedly believe what TAFEP is doing is meaningful, and it resonates with my personal views on doing what is right.
3. As a business owner, I fully understand why many of us focus on chasing bottom line. At the same time, I also feel businesses can, and should,do more than just that.
4. At Sakae Sushi, we have a strong focus on taking care of our people and helping them grow. That is why we have set up in-house training programmes since day one, provided scholarships, and even offered baby bonuses before the government did so. When my colleagues asked me what was the business case for that, I candidly told them that that was one more person eating sushi in five years’ time. I believe that taking care of our people is part of Sakae’s greater purpose <pause, look at audience>. What’s yours? <pause>
Formation of TAFEP
5. This concept of having a greater purpose also applies to TAFEP. To better understand what this greater purpose is, let’s go back to the year 2006 when it all started.
6. More than 10 years ago, a group of employers, unions and government officials saw the older workers having problems getting hired or promoted even though they had the relevant skills and talents. The Tripartite Committee on Employability of Older Workers was therefore formed to encourage employers to remove age as a barrier for employment.
7. This Committee soon realised that there were others who needed help as well–women trying to get back to the workforce,caregivers for aged or sickly family members, and people with some form of disability.
8. Acoordinated effort was needed to address the issue of workplace discrimination. This led to the formation of TAFEP, to promote fair employment practices.
Deepening Engagement with Employers
9. At that time, employers were not very sure of what fair employment practices were. Therefore, in 2007, TAFEP launched the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to provide employers with a set of guiding principles. These Guidelines would then go on to become the bedrock for all of TAFEP’s work.
10. TAFEP started by taking on an advisory and promotional approach. For example, TAFEP would offer advice to employers and employees when allegations arose about employment practices that could be discriminatory.
11. Most of such incidents happened during the pre-employment stage, such as job advertisements that had discriminatory content. Employers were found assessing job applicants by non-relevant criteria, for example by asking for their age during phone screening.
12. For each case, TAFEP would engage the employer and employee to address the issue at hand, and provide advice to the employer if corrective action was needed.
Changing Employment Landscape
13. But soon, some of these would evolve.Right now, there are interviews being done through Facetime as well. With time, Singapore’s employment landscape has changed significantly. The workforce today has become more diverse, there’s a larger proportion of workers employed as PMEs, and new models of work are emerging. Companies have to find new ways to attract and retain their talents.
14. In 2011, TAFEP enhanced the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to include a section on hiring and developing a Singaporean core so that Singaporeans can get good jobs and careers despite the changing environment.
15. TAFEP also adapted to this change by engaging companies differently. Instead of only focusing on the issue that has been raised, TAFEP now conducts a comprehensive review of the company’s full spectrum of HR practices.
16. This benefits companies in two ways. Firstly, it enables them to identify current gaps that need to be bridged. Secondly, it helps companies to prepare for the future by implementing progressive employment practices.
17. We have seen more companies adopting good practices, such as flexible work arrangements, and to facilitate the hiring of older workers and back-to-work mums. It was especially encouraging to see that almost all of the nominees for the TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award this year had some form of such practices in place.
Working with Partners
18. Being a tripartite set-up of MOM, SNEF and NTUC, TAFEP has the benefit of leveraging on the tripartite partners,in reaching out to both employers and employees to spread the awareness of fair and progressive employment, and to make the push for better workplace practices.
19. The support of the tripartite partners has been invaluable in raising awareness of TAFEP and the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices to around 70%of all employers in recent years.
20. TAFEP has also leveraged on the tripartite partners as well as others like the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, and the Centre for Seniors, in the area of capability development, for example in organising training workshops and seminars for employers. The participation by employers has increased significantly by more than twofold from close to 2500 in 2010 to about 5800 in 2015.
Recognising Exemplary Employers
21. We have started to see some signs of our efforts bearing fruit. The number of TAFEP Exemplary Employer Award finalists has increased threefold from 10 in 2010 to 33 in 2016. Even with more stringent criteria, we have seen repeat winners as well, evidence that companies are sustaining their efforts at being fair and inclusive. What’s even more significant is that more SMEs have emerged as winners, with four SME winners in the Award this year.
Changing our Approach
22. We started our mindset journey by telling employers to hire on merit and see one’s ability and skills. TAFEP has since broadened its scope and now encourages employers to look at creating a fair and progressive workplace for all.
23. But employers are not the only ones who need to have the right mindsets. Everyone at the workplace should play a part and respect each other for who they are, and their abilities. TAFEP launched the Fair@Work Promise in February this year, to do just that. This initiative is meant to get everyone to look at their own bias and make a commitment to be fair and inclusive.
24. From a promotional approach, TAFEP is now championing issues such as older workers, women, race, family responsibilities and so forth, as the economy and society change in this dynamic world. We are generating more conversations and encouraging greater participation and sharing of ideas.
25. TAFEP will continue to work on changing mindsets, showcasing and celebrating good employers. Many of these employers have started out with a strong determination to do the right thing. And we have seen this same sentiment in many employers who have signed the Employers’ Pledge of Fair Employment Practices. Today, more than 4600 employers have signed the Pledge, an increase of more than 16 times since the Pledge was first established in 2006.
26. While TAFEP is prepared to support employers, we are also prepared to push the envelope a little harder.For errant employers, TAFEP will take a stronger stance. This would include making recommendations to the Ministry of Manpower for appropriate actions to be taken, which could eventually lead to the curtailment of work pass privileges. Discrimination has no place in Singapore, and we want employers to understand their behaviour has the potential to affect not just their employees and their families, but also their organisations and society at large.
27. Earlier, I have talked about how TAFEP has a greater purpose. I think the answer is clear when you consider all the initiatives that TAFEP has undertaken and how TAFEP has evolved in the past 10 years.
28. TAFEP’s greater purpose is to help workers everywhere excel, by removing barriers that come in the form of stereotypes and biases. And when workers are able to perform to their fullest potential, their organisations will naturally enjoy success too. In return, this will make the workers even more successful.
29. In the years ahead, TAFEP will continue its mission to improve workplace practices in Singapore, not just as an enabler, but as an advocate and champion.
30. On behalf of my fellow Co-chairperson and members of the TAFEP board, I would like to thank TAFEP’s Advisors, Minister Lim, Dr Robert Yap from SNEF, and Ms Mary Liew from NTUC, who is not present today,for their guidance and support, and all our tripartite partners for their commitment to advance fair and progressive employment in Singapore.
31. Most of all, I would like to thank all TAFEP staff, for their hard work and dedication in helping to shape Singapore’s employment landscape. You have helped to create better workplaces for everyone.
32. It has been an exciting 10 years. Here’s to bigger and better things. Happy Birthday TAFEP!
33. Thank you.