SINGAPORE: Companies should employ people based on their competence and suitability, and not the colour of their skin, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Monday evening (Sep 6).
"TAFEP currently has various rules on discrimination in the workplace. And that will be given legislative teeth, put into law," he said during an interview on the Channel 5 news bulletin, News Tonight.
"So, your employment should depend on your abilities and competence and suitability for the job, not on colour of your skin."
Mr Shanmugam was responding to a question about how the TAFEP (Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices) guidelines will apply to companies that say they have a racial preference for employees, once these guidelines have been written into law.
During his National Day Rally speech on Aug 29, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced the move to enshrine these workplace anti-discrimination guidelines into law, highlighting that this will expand the range of actions the Government can take against errant employers.
Under current TAFEP guidelines, the Ministry of Manpower can impose administrative penalties on repeat offenders, including restricting the company from hiring foreign workers.
Mr Shanmugam said on Monday that the target is for the TAFEP law to benefit minorities as well as other groups that face workplace discrimination, such as women.
"As I said earlier, whether you get employed and whether you are in employment, how you perform should be based on competence," he said.
"It shouldn't be based on age, or whether you are a man or woman, and on your race, the colour of your skin."
CALIBRATING THE PLANNED RACIAL HARMONY LAW
Mr Shanmugam also touched on the planned racial harmony law, pointing out that it will be challenging to calibrate measures under this law and ensure that they will work.
Mr Lee had also said during his National Day Rally speech that the Government intends to pass the new Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act to consolidate its powers to deal with racial issues.
The Act will include “softer” measures that can order someone who has caused offence to stop doing it, and to make amends by learning more about the other race and mending ties with them, Mr Lee said.
"Challenges will be plenty, because we are going into social behaviour, and you don't want to criminalise every single act. And if you try, the law will fall flat and it will become unworkable," Mr Shanmugam said.
"So, it can't be too intrusive, and yet you want it to be able to work in a way that encourages racial harmony and brings people together, and shows that society frowns upon certain types of conduct.
"You also don't want to criminalise in the sense that you don't want to send people to jail or put fines on them. You want to try and deal with that at a community level.
Potential measures under the law include compelling an offender to understand another community, Mr Shanmugam said, comparing it to doing community service.
"So we need to calibrate the options as well to try and make it workable, so it will be challenging," he added.
Mr Shanmugam said it will "take some time" for the new law to be rolled out, noting that the Government first needs to consult the stakeholders involved in a "thought through process".
"We have started work on it ... what are the different parts we want to cover, how we want the law to operate, what kind of sanctions, penal and non-penal sanctions," he said, adding that discussions involve the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth as well as inter-racial advocacy group OnePeople.sg.
"Something like this that touches on the community so much, you need to consult, definitely."