Manpower Minister: Addressing the gender pay gap requires a multi-pronged approach

The minister for manpower says the tripartite partners will continue working closely with the business and HR community to reduce the gender pay gap.

By Shukry Rashid 04 Apr 2024
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Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Minister Tan See Leng said occupational differences are one key reason for the gender pay gap in Singapore.


He added: “In other words, there tends to be a lower share of women in higher-paying occupations such as those in science, technology and engineering.”


He said that the gender pay gap is also affected by other factors, such as the effects of parenthood and caregiving responsibilities, which women tend to shoulder more than men, and workplace discrimination.


Mr Tan was responding to NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo in Parliament on 2 April 2024 when he asked if MOM would consider introducing measures to close the gender pay gap further.


Mr Choo’s parliamentary question was the second time recently that labour MPs have asked MOM on measures to reduce the gender pay gap.


In September 2023, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay asked the ministry in Parliament about the gender pay gap for finance-related roles and what was being done to address the gap in the sector.


Multi-pronged approach to tackle gender pay gap


Mr Tan said that addressing the gender pay gap requires a multi-pronged approach.


He said: “We need to encourage more women to enter and stay in occupations related to science, technology, engineering and sectors where there’s good potential for salary growth and career progression.


“The Government has focused efforts on addressing gender stereotypes about careers, starting from schools and by organising career fairs and mentorship programmes. For example, the Government has been working with schools, industry and community partners under the SG Women in Tech movement to attract, retain, and develop female talent in the tech sector,” added Mr Tan.


Mr Tan also said there is a need to encourage equal sharing of caregiving duties at home and create workplaces that enable caregivers to continue working as much as possible.


He cited examples of how the Government has been encouraging equal sharing of caregiving duties, such as increasing Government-paid paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks.


He said MOM continues working closely with tripartite partners to encourage family-friendly workplace practices that help male and female employees better manage their work and caregiving responsibilities.


One cited example includes soon-to-be introduced Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) Requests later this year.


The guideline is expected to establish norms for employees to request FWAs and have their employers properly consider them.


Mr Tan also said that women must have equal opportunities in the workplace.


He explained: “The Government will be introducing the Workplace Fairness Legislation later this year, which will strengthen protections against workplace discrimination based on sex, marital status, and caregiving responsibilities, among other protected characteristics.”


Mr Tan said the tripartite partners will continue working closely with the business and HR community on initiatives that will contribute to reducing the gender wage gap.


He added: “If there is strong interest among employers and unions to lead similar initiatives, MOM would be happy to support these efforts.”


Guidelines for pay transparency


Mr Choo also asked if the ministry would consider issuing guidelines for pay transparency.


In response, Mr Tan said that issuing guidelines for pay transparency may not be practical if Singapore does not tackle the underlying causes of the gender pay gap.


“Instead, such guidelines could be counterproductive in the long term if they affect how firms choose to hire their employees,” he added.


According to MOM’s data released in March 2024, the gender pay gap in Singapore narrowed from 16.3 per cent in 2018 to 14.3 per cent in 2023.


After accounting for human capital and labour market factors, Singapore’s adjusted gender pay gap is 6 per cent lower than in 2018.


From 2018 to 2023, MOM added that the gender pay gap narrowed as females’ occupational profiles improved more than men’s.


Mr Tan said that the 6 per cent gap also compared men and women with similar characteristics in age, education, occupation, industry, and usual hours worked.


He added that the gap is comparable to that of the United States and Canada, where equal pay or pay transparency legislation has been introduced.