An average of 400 complaints of alleged discriminatory workplace practices were received by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) each year between 2011 and 2015.

This was according to Singapore's Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck, who was speaking in Parliament on 11 July.

As reported by Channel NewsAsia, Teo said that less than 10% of these complaints between 2011 and 2015 were related to race or religion.

A majority of the complaints were found to be about unfair hiring practices, including posting discriminatory job advertisements and asking inappropriate questions during job interviews.

The remaining were related to in-employment issues such as poor grievance handling and a lack of sensitivity in communicating company policies and practices.

"Citing results of a 2014 survey conducted by MOM, Teo said two in three firms reported that they implemented fair employment practices, and the majority of those who did not were planning to do so," Channel NewsAsia wrote.

Before 2014, employers took TAFEP's advice when they took an advisory approach in counselling employers who were involved in such complaints, according to Teo.

He added that even so, stronger action has been taken to deter workplace discrimination these include warnings for race-or-religion-related discrimination and the curtailing of work pass privileges.

Since then, 10 employers have received warnings while another 12 employers have had their work pass privileges curtailed.

Members of Parliament such as Zaqy Mohamed and Leon Perera reportedly questioned the effectiveness of existing enforcement measures.

Perera asked: "If the employer is recalcitrant in the face of a warning, the ministry can curtail their work pass privileges, but what about companies who do not depend on work passes?"

"That threat may not be useful to get them to comply,” Perera added.

“Even if such cases do not occur now, they may occur in the future.”

In response, Teo pointed out that the number of discrimination-related complaints has remained stable over the past five years, adding that in 2015 alone, about 300 complaints were received.

“With this stability, we feel that the current multi-pronged approach, in terms of imposing penalties of curtailing work passes, as well as TAFEP’s counselling and advisory work has been effective, especially when you look at the outcome,” he said.

“All the companies heeded their advice and there were no repeated cases.”

However, feeling that more can be done, Teo said: "MOM and our tripartite partners recognize that the key to eliminating discrimination is to spread this fair and inclusive message to all workplaces."

"TAFEP will step up its public education campaign to make people more conscious and sensitive in embracing diversity in a multiracial workforce.

"TAFEP will also ramp up training for HR practitioners to ensure recruitment and selection are based on the principles of fair and merit-based hiring, and publicise best practices in this area."

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