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Minister Teo cites “concerns about overreach” in abstaining from voting for ILO treaty against workplace harassment

One of the requirements of the new convention includes adopting laws and regulations mandating a reasonable and practical workplace policy on violence and harassment. Singapore companies are currently not obligated to have such a policy

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Singapore — Manpower Minister Josephine Teo cited “concerns about overreach” as the reason behind Singapore’s decision to abstain from voting in the United Nations global pact against workplace violence and harassment.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) proposed the Violence And Harassment Convention 2019 on June 21, a new international labour standard that would be legally binding for countries that voted to ratify it.

One of the requirements of the new convention includes adopting laws and regulations mandating a reasonable and practical workplace policy on violence and harassment. Singapore companies are currently not obligated to have such a policy.

Additionally, the convention proposed that ratifying countries will be expected to ensure the effective investigation of cases of workplace violence and harassment.

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The Ministry of Manpower previously released a statement saying that the the tripartite partners involved in the decision making—the MOM, the National Trades Union Congress, and Singapore National Employers Federation—considered that “the scope of the convention was cast very broadly.”

Responding to a query in Parliament, Minister Teo said the Singapore National Employers Federation “had grave concerns” regarding the treaty against workplace harassment and thus voted against the convention. However, the National Trades Union Congress, representing workers, voted in favour.

The new convention proposed including domestic violence in risk assessments which thus expands beyond the coverage of the workplace.

Other governments that abstained from voting for the new ILO convention include Russia, El Salvador, Malaysia, Paraguay, and Kyrgyzstan.

She said that it is Singapore’s policy to “only consider adopting or ratifying conventions which are in Singapore’s interests, with which (its) laws and policies can fully comply.”

Minister Teo added that they will continue studying the terms and will improve policies and measures following the convention “if they also meet our objectives.”

Singapore companies are already observing practical measures regarding response to and investigations of workplace harassment complaints.

Minister Teo said that “a very small percentage” of the complaints collected by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) are workplace-related.

“This is not to trivialise the concerns of those who did file the complaints, but in general, we do not have a pervasive issue. It is quite specific to certain employers and certain types of work arrangements. Those we will follow up,” Minister Teo said as quoted in a report by Channel News Asia.

However, Minister Teo said that Singapore voted in favour of a non-legally binding ILO Occupational Safety and Health Convention last June 12 that “aligned” with the country’s objectives to promote decent work, ensuring workplace health and safety, and mitigating workplace fatalities. -/TISG

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