Is workplace inclusivity for ex-offenders a farce?

ex-offenders, society, concern, employers, reintegrate, session, Singapore

We all know how hard it is to reintegrate back to work worrying about childcare duties after that maternity leave or lacking the relevant work skills after taking that gap year. But have you wondered about the anxieties and uncertainties ex-offenders feel when reintegrating back into society and the workforce?

At a focus group session organised by NTUC and Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) on 13 January 2023, some 140 employers, associations and ex-offenders attended the discussion to voice their concerns, struggles and challenges of hiring ex-offenders.

Concerns affecting ex-offenders when reintegrating society

Many of the ex-offenders at the event shared that like many Singaporeans, they too face concerns such as financial instability, caregiving responsibilities and the lack of relevant skills for work when trying to reintegrate to society. On top of these, some are plagued with self-esteem issues derived from the social stigma that the public has on ex-offenders. A few on the participants at the event who are ex-offenders voiced the same concern on the judgement they might receive from their colleagues if they came to know of their record.

Addressing some concerns at the session was NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay who said that society today is more inclusive and accepting as compared to the past. Despite so, he acknowledged that workplace discrimination in various forms still exists but hopes that society do not leave any workers behind in a country like Singapore that has no natural resources, including ex-offenders.

We should not leave any stones unturned and leave any worker behind

A message to ex-offenders from an ex-offender

During the engagement session, Mr Yeo Yun Luo, an ex-offender, and a current Project Manager at facilities management company C&W Services Singapore shared that it is how ex-offenders position themselves that matters. He encourages one to take a step back and look at what one is good at and areas where he or she is lacking. “Then, if you need education [and skills], you can definitely go for courses to upgrade yourself.” Beyond that, he said that companies and society will also have to be more accepting of ex-offenders.

To which, Mr Tay also urged employers to adopt fair employment practices to ease the transition for ex-offenders into the workforce and hopes that the upcoming workplace anti-discrimination legislation will level the playing field for all workers.

How employers can support ex-offenders to reintegrate into the workforce

Also at the engagement session was C&W Services Singapore Managing Director Mr Lam Shiu Tong, who came forward to voice his views as an employer. Suggesting that some employers may not hire ex-offenders simply out of concern, Mr Lam encourages employers and society in general to change their perspectives towards ex-offenders citing that they are an untapped source of talent pool that can add value to businesses with their diverse skills and experiences, resilience and drive.

Comparing to other talents out there … [Ex-offenders] have additional inert attributes that the rest might not have, which is the drive...They will have something to prove, that they are now given a chance to make it right.

The no-holds-barred focus group session saw the exchange of impactful personal experience both from the employer and the ex-offender, but more importantly it bore fruits as it generated many suggestions on how to navigate and overcome the challenges.

Drawing from the discussion, a supportive environment with a strong network of support is key for ex-offenders to re-build confidence and function at the workplace. The support can include employers, community services and mentors. Mr Tay shared that the labour movement will be supporting the ex-offenders, and will speak up for them in the upcoming Budget/Committee of Supply debate this year.

NTUC encourages more workers to step forward and join in the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversation so that the hopes, fears and aspiration of workers from all spectrums could be heard.


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