A DRIVE to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to take on more women and seniors has been launched, just two days after a Government move to curb hiring unskilled foreigners.

The campaign by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) also follows a survey it carried out last year which found seven in 10 SMEs do not have any workers aged over 60.

Two thirds of more than 500 SMEs surveyed also said that inclusive practices such as hiring women and seniors are irrelevant or unimportant to them.

One in 10 even said that they do not need a diverse workforce.

"There is a tendency in companies that if you are Chinese, you just employ Chinese workers; if you are Indian, you employ Indian workers," said Tafep co-chairman Bob Tan.

"Sometimes you make it worse when you speak in dialect."

In an effort to change attitudes, the watchdog persuaded 13 SME bosses to sign a public pledge yesterday that they will not practise discrimination in the workplace.

The bosses are executive council members of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) representing 6,500 SMEs here.

Six other council members took a similar pledge in the last few years.

Asme president Chan Chong Beng said that getting companies to have better human resource practices is one way of beating the labour crunch.

Tafep also launched an online public education package aimed at SMEs yesterday.

The watchdog was set up in 2006 by the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress and the Manpower Ministry to promote fair employment practices.

One of those who took the pledge yesterday was Mr Eric Tan, chief executive of property valuation firm GSK Global.

The firm has fewer than 20 workers and a fifth of them are seniors.

"Some bosses expect older workers to adapt to them, but we can adjust to the older workers too, like giving them more flexibility, as long as they can contribute to the company," said GSK's Mr Tan.