OUTGOING Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin called for the workplace to be seen positively as a building block of society - and not just as a place of economic exchange.
Speaking at a conference on fair and progressive employment practices on Thursday, he said that by doing so, such job practices can improve further and become more widely accepted.
Just as the family and the school are the fundamental building blocks of our society, shaping our values when we are young, Mr Tan said the workplace could do the same when we are adults. By acting on the commitment to fairness and meritocracy, whether as an employer or an employee, he said we could change society for the better through the workplace.
The conference, attended by over 500 participants, was organised by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).
Some say it makes business sense in the current tight labour market to be fair to workers and offer them a flexible and inclusive workplace, because these help to attract and retain talent, Mr Tan noted.
While it's not wrong, that view suggests the workplace is driven only by transactionary motives, where labour is exchanged for a fair day's wage, according to him. Instead, he said the workplace is where society could be changed for the better and the values of fairness and meritocracy safeguarded.
It's only by making this mindset shift that we would then see the wider implications of employment and human resource practices - and the big difference they can make in shaping the way society evolves, Mr Tan said.
The Minister leaves the Manpower Ministry after May 4 to focus on his new appointment - effective from Thursday - as Minister for Social and Family Development.
And once the mindset is transformed from one that sees the workplace as a place of economic exchange to one for social progress, both employers and workers could practise a virtuous cycle of values in which fairness, meritocracy, reciprocity and responsibility reinfore each other, according to him.
Mr Tan said creating an inclusive workplace is not just the job of the bosses or HR persons. Workers also need to remind themselves that they should not treat others differently because of differences in age, gender or race.
In his welcome remarks, TAFEP's co-chairman Heng Chee How reported that the number of employers who pledged to follow fair employment practices jumped from 2,679 in 2013 to 3,779 last year.
"This year, we are inviting Pledge Signers to join interest groups to discuss and share best practices in areas that they are passionate about," said Mr Heng, who is deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.
The Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices was introduced in 2006 to signal employers' commitment to create a fair and inclusive workplace environment.
TAFEP also released its annual report on Thursday at the conference. The report says the number of complaints, feedback and enquiries TAFEP received in 2014 was 2,433, down 46 per cent from 2013.
This reflected partly the progress TAFEB made in raising awareness of fair and progressive job practices, it said. It was also because some of the complaints were diverted to the Ministry of Manpower.
Enquiries on government's initiatives like WorkPro and TAFEP's expanded scope in age management and work-life nearly doubled last year, the report said.
"There were increased enquiries in matters such as age management and work-life workshops, how to qualify for WorkPro funding, fair employment practices and general good HR practices."