Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, on the Adjournment Motion on Strengthening the Singaporean Core.
Mdm, it’s not fair. Today I will speak about the unfair discrimination women and mothers face before they take even a single step in the workplace.
Discrimination faced by women
I’m speaking up about this again because it is clear that women are treated unfairly at the workplaces.
Based on MOM’s data, women earned a median salary of $342 less than men even those doing the same type of job.
Our female labour force participation rate also shows a disparity. The most recent quarter of data shows that women’s labour participation rate was 61.2%, far below the 75.4% for men.
Discrimination faced by working mothers
Working mothers in particular face unique struggles.
Last year, a female resident shared worrying concerns with me. She said, “I have just been to an interview. The HR personnel called me a mother before they even called me by my name. I am in the line of recruitment, and such stories are a dime a dozen. My take is that the focus should be on whether we are up for the job. It should not be on whether we are a mother and then assumed that we are not able to do the role.”
I have personally witnessed the conditions my resident talked about. At one job fair I visited this past year. I was encouraged by the efforts to help locals find new jobs. What was less encouraging to see was that almost every single booth that I visited asked in their application forms about the marital status and number of children of their applicants.
These questions have nothing to do with how capable an applicant is and they disproportionately hurt the chances of women and mothers to find employment.
A study by researchers at Cornell University found that women who didn’t have children were two times more likely to be called for an interview, as compared with similarly qualified mothers.
Questions about marital status, number of children and even plans to have children are not one-off. They are widespread in our economy and a standard part of many companies’ recruitment processes.
A 2018 survey of 2,600 Singaporean women reported that 33% of them said they were questioned at job interviews on their plans to start a family.
Last year, I launched a public survey about this. Of the 255 respondents, 80% said they had been asked about their marital status at the point of recruitment. 50% were asked whether they had or planned to have children. More than 60% felt that having children or planning to have children would make them more likely to be rejected or to be offered a lower salary.
One respondent said, “At a final interview with a local bank, they blatantly told me that I should not get pregnant if I were to take on the role.”
Over the weekend, another young mother shared with me about the numerous times she faced discrimination during job interviews. She was asked about her childcare arrangements, who would pick up and drop off the child and even whether she would not do work when her child is unwell.
She shared with me, “my husband has NEVER once been subjected to questions similar to those which I have received at interviews or ever been “grilled” about our childcare arrangement or asked whether he’s sure he can put in the work required even when his interviewers are aware that he is married and has a child”.
This young mother asked me, “Is it fair that they get penalised for it before even being given the opportunity too prove their worth?”
Indeed, questions about marital status and number of children are harmful. They hurt the job prospects of all women, with mothers particularly suffering.
They hurt employers as they may miss out finding the best candidate for their roles.
They hurt our nation’s standing as a society that provides fair opportunities to women.
Limitations of the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practice
Fortunately, we don’t have to start from scratch in tackling such discrimination. We have the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practice, or the Tripartite Guidelines for short.
The Tripartite Guidelines on job application forms prohibit questions on age, gender, race, religion, marital status, family responsibilities and disability.
The Tripartite Guidelines are a step in the right direction by setting out fair and responsible employment and hiring practices.
However, the Tripartite Guidelines remain that – guidelines. In the meantime, questions that clearly flout the guidelines are openly asked on application forms and in job interviews.
The reality is that these Guidelines are a weak deterrence and are routinely flouted. The current penalty of curtailing work pass privileges for non-compliance is neither appropriate nor sufficient.
It’s inappropriate because it makes no sense. We’re telling companies that treating women with fairness is important if you want to hire foreign workers.
It’s insufficient because it doesn’t cover every employer. If you don’t hire foreign workers, how would you be hurt by the curtailment of work pass privileges?
Legislating penalties against unfair employment practices
I know I usually ask for many things. Today, I only have one ask. And that is for us to legislate the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.
It would address not only discrimination on the basis of gender or marital status, but protects against workplace discrimination based on age, race, religion, and disability.
It would also provide more methods for enforcement and a wider range of penalties to tackle workplace discrimination. If we are serious about tackling discrimination, we should not tie our own hands by wielding only the blunt tool of work pass privileges.
Most importantly, legislating the guidelines will send a loud and clear message to employers that discrimination in the workplace will not be tolerated. It will be illegal, and unfair practices will be punished by law.
It is time that our laws on workplace discrimination match the seriousness and pervasiveness of the problem.
The common thread that runs through all three speeches is that we all agree that we need to legislate the Tripartite Guidelines.
We know that MOM is the most compassionate Ministry and I hope MOM would say Yes to us. Sir, I am speaking up about this not just for my three daughters who I want to be treated fairly, not just for all women but for all of us and for our society as a whole and mostly because it is the right thing to do.
Let’s end the discrimination. Thank you.
Watch the speech here.