SINGAPORE is increasingly becoming an integral part of a globalised and highly networked economy.

Coupled with an ageing population, there will be increasing competition in the market for workers.

The workforce profile will become more diverse, making it crucial for employers to ensure that their employment practices are fair to workers from different backgrounds.

Says Mr Bob Tan, the co-chairperson of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment and vice-president for the Singapore National Employers Federation: "Changes in Singapore's demographic profile mean that employers will have to introduce and implement progressive policies and practices to better attract and retain employees with diverse backgrounds and experience, including older workers and women."

Employers will have to take a different approach in managing their human resources.

They need to ensure that policies and practices are in place to allow older workers to return to the workforce and help them stay employed longer.

There is also a need to address the challenges faced by pregnant workers and women who have not worked for some years to encourage more of them to return to the workforce.

The Tripartite Centre for Fair Employment is the operational and promotional arm of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices.

The centre was set up in 2007 to promote fair and merit-based employment practices in Singapore, such as providing advice and developing programmes to encourage and assist employers in their adoption of fair employment practices.

Benefits

Implementing fair and merit-based employment practices will prove beneficial for employers in the long run as it widens the pool of candidates to recruit from.

The ability to tap on the strengths of employees from different backgrounds and experiences will ensure that Singapore continues to attract and retain quality employees in a competitive business environment amid the demand for talent.

By practising fair employment, companies are employing the best and most appropriate person for the job based on the candidate's skill, experience and/or ability to perform the job.

This means that companies do not discriminate against any potential candidates based on their age, gender, religion, race, disability or martial status.

Employees are treated with respect and provided with equal opportunity for training and development based on their strengths and needs to help them achieve their full potential.

They are also rewarded fairly based on their ability, performance, contribution and experience.

Challenges

Some employers may be unaware that their choice of words and phrases in their job advertisements or the questions they pose during an interview can impact how they are perceived by job applicants.

Their tone and choice of language may prompt candidates into thinking that the company is being discriminatory, when it is not.

Given the wide range of jobs in Singapore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that can meet the needs of different organisations.

The more effective approach is not to be obsessed by a taboo list of what should not be done, but to focus on what should be done instead, that is, by reviewing and ensuring that objective criteria are used to select the best person for the job.

How to get started

For employers who want to be fair but are not sure how to ensure it, here are some tips to get you started in making your workplace fair and inclusive:

* Sign the pledge

Take the first step towards your commitment to be a fair employer by signing the Employers' Pledge of Fair Employment Practices.

The Tripartite Centre for Fair Employment provides a range of services, tools and resources to help companies implement fair employment practices, such as advisory services, regular training workshops, seminars and educational materials.

* Review company policies

Review current human resource (HR) materials and practices within your company, including existing application forms, job advertisements and HR policies.

This is to make sure that relevant and objective selection criteria related to the job requirements are applied consistently at all stages of the recruitment and selection process.

* Set the tone

Business leaders should set the tone and emphasise the importance of fair employment practices, reinforcing the business case and how being fair will impact positively on the company. This will also help create a culture that supports the implementation of fair employment practices.

* Build capabilities

This involves equipping the HR department and/or hiring managers in the company with the relevant skills to handle the recruitment and selection process effectively.

Training should also focus on developing HR personnel and hiring managers who can serve as role models, communicate the business benefits of fair employment practices, address behavioural issues quickly and effectively, and address employee concerns when problems arise.

* Put employees first

Keep channels of communication open. In addition to competitive wage packages, the key to retaining and attracting valuable talent is to tell staff about the organisation's commitment to ensure fair and ethical work practices at the workplace, ensuring equal opportunity for all.

Focusing on fair recruitment practices creates a win-win scenario for both employers and employees.

Companies will be able to hire the best person for the job. Employees, on the other hand, can be assured that they will be given equal access to jobs, training and other development opportunities enabling them to realise their full potential.