Discrimination based on nationality topped the list of complaints received last year again, says the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP). The banking and information technology sectors were found to be the most problematic.

Cases of discrimination by nationality made up half of about 300 complaints in all. However, TAFEP general manager Roslyn Ten said many stem from misunderstanding and not from genuine bias, and urged companies to improve communication with job seekers or existing employees by explaining why, for example, foreigners instead of Singaporeans were hired or promoted.

She said: “Could they better explain that it’s really about the skills? Because when they hire, they just hire. They don’t really communicate why (they) hire A and not B, and why (they) promote A and not B. It’s because of the domain knowledge… that the employers require, and somehow they couldn’t find them in locals.”

In some cases, Singaporean jobseekers may have commitments at home, and are reluctant to take up overseas postings or jobs which require frequent travelling, she said. “It’s quite difficult for them to take up (these) and (they’re) not as versatile as their foreign colleagues, in terms of being very open to being relocated or just to travel.”

The number of complaints about discriminatory hiring practices received by TAFEP last year fell sharply, compared to 2013 when there were 475 complaints.

Apart from alleged discrimination based on nationality, one in five complaints was bias linked to age — a similar proportion to alleged discrimination related to language or race.

On the number of complaints from the banking and IT sectors, Mrs Ten felt this was because “people in these sectors are more vocal”.

“They’re the PMEs (professionals, managers and executives), so they know where to bring their complaints to. It’s because of people’s awareness, rather than because these sectors are more discriminative of the Singaporeans,” she said.

Emphasizing that many unfair employment practices were largely due to miscommunication, she said clear-cut cases of discrimination against Singaporeans are rare. “It’s really more of perception.”

When companies do not adhere to fair employment practices, TAFEP offers suggestions to boost their human resource (HR) systems, such as refining job application forms or training recruiters in interviewing techniques.

It also educates companies on a sectorial level — through union talks, seminars and campaigns. As part of its outreach efforts, it organises a conference for business leaders, HR practitioners and academics every two years. This year’s conference takes place on Thursday.

TAFEP says it will step up efforts in promoting work-life harmony and the hiring of older workers, through sharing case studies and commissioning more studies.

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