Harsher penalties for companies whose hiring practices discriminate against Singaporeans

Harsher penalties for companies whose hiring practices discriminate against Singaporeans

Companies that discriminate against Singaporeans during hiring will face harsher penalties as part of the latest update to the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). Chloe Choo with more.

SINGAPORE: Companies that discriminate against Singaporeans during hiring will face harsher penalties as part of the latest update to the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). 

As part of revised measures announced by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo during a visit to software company Salesforce on Tuesday (Jan 14), firms found to favour hiring foreigners over Singaporeans will be barred from applying for new work passes for a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of 24 months. 

This is up from the minimum debarment period of six months.

They will also not be allowed to renew their existing work passes. Previously, these companies were still allowed to renew their existing work passes as well. 

Explaining the reason behind the amendments at a media briefing on Monday, a Ministry of Manpower spokesperson said: “We think in terms of understanding of what is fair employment, generally companies, they get it. 

“What's left we feel are some of the cases where there is discriminatory intent and that (cannot be solved with just) education anymore, but we also need to have more penalties.”

In her speech at Salesforce, Mrs Teo said stiffening the penalties highlight the point that “if employers want to continue their operations in Singapore, they would have to hire locals”.  

“This will mean stronger deterrence against workplace discrimination of any kind. More importantly, it sends a clear signal about the need for fairness at work," she said. 

READ: Fair-hiring policy widened to give Singaporeans fair access to jobs - Lim Swee Say 

Five companies have been penalised under the new regulations since they came into effect this month. They are Nihon Premium Clinic, Meyer Burger (Singapore), Tarantula Global Holdings, Meow Services and Ti2 Logistics.

They will be banned from hiring new foreign workers and renewing existing work passes for at least 12 months, with Meyer Burger (Singapore) and Ti2 Logistics facing a 24-month restriction. 

Ti2 Logistics was charged on Tuesday with making a false declaration - a criminal offence under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act - in order to hire foreigners.

Other than Meow Services, all of these firms had either treated the FCF job advertising requirement as a paper exercise – they had pre-selected the employment pass (EP) applicant - or failed to fairly consider local candidates, MOM said.
 
The FCF job advertising guidelines require employers who are submitting EP applications to post vacancies on national jobs bank MyCareersFuture.sg and look at all candidates fairly before they can hire from abroad. 

Meow Services was found to have discriminated based on gender after it posted a recruitment notice looking for male production operators. 

“We will look for documentary evidence, we will look for explanation from the company (and) the company directors, we can take statements from the personnels involved as well,” a MOM spokesperson said. 

Four of the cases were detected through MOM’s checks using data analytics, while the case involving Meow Services surfaced due to a complaint made to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), a spokesperson added. Investigations into each case took between three and six months to complete. 

Most of the cases surfaced after complaints were made to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP), a spokesperson added. Between 2014 and 2018, TAFEP received more than 2,000 complaints. MOM took action in 680 of these cases - 400 employers received warning letters, while 280 of them were banned from hiring new foreign workers. 

Out of these 280 cases, 135 were due to discrimination based on nationality. The rest involved other forms of workplace discrimination, such as age, race and gender. In cases involving non-nationality discrimination, redress can be sought under the Employment Act and the Retirement and Re-employment Act, said a MOM spokesperson. 

READ: About 350 firms are on watchlist for unfair hiring policies: Manpower Minister 

READ: Commentary: Why do companies still hire expat staff even though they seem to cost more? 

Companies with discriminatory hiring practices could be put on an FCF Watchlist. It was launched in 2016 and since then, about 600 companies found to have an exceptionally high ratio of foreign professionals, managers, executives or technicians (PMETs), or a very high concentration of a single nationality have been put on the list, the ministry said. 

These employers are given six months to improve their HR practices with TAFEP’s help, MOM said in its factsheet. Two hundred and sixty of them were removed from the watchlist after they reduced the proportion of foreigners in their headcount.

The ministry will curtail a company’s work passes if they do not respond to TAFEP’s call to correct its processes, a MOM spokesperson pointed out during the media briefing. 

READ: Balanced approach to foreign workers needed to ensure continued creation of good jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

MOM is also planning to step up measures against employment agencies with discriminatory practice, its spokesperson said, and more details will be given at the upcoming committee of supply debate. 

Job discrimination has fallen over the years, MOM said, citing figures that show more women and older workers are getting hired. 

Labour representatives on Tuesday said they agreed with the move to stamp out discriminatory hiring practices. 

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay said he was glad that MOM was implementing "more robust and resolute measures to further strengthen the Fair Consideration Framework and to level the playing field for local PMES ... and combat against nationality discrimination". 

"The harsher penalties will send a deterrent effect to would-be and recalcitrant employers/businesses," Mr Tay said in a Facebook post.

Mr Koh Juan Kiat, the executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation said MOM's approach "ensures that responsible employers with progressive hiring practices can continue to hire the appropriate talent to support their business growth". 

From 2008 to 2018, the resident employment rate of women increased from 57 per cent to 67 per cent. For older workers aged 55 to 64, it rose from 65 per cent to 72 per cent. 

The FCF was introduced in August 2014 following complaints from locals that companies preferred to hire foreigners over them. 

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Mrs Teo also announced that Workforce Singapore (WSG) will renew one of its Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) aimed at increasing the number of infocomm technology (ICT) workers in Singapore.

Professionals that want to join the ICT sector can apply for the PCP for Salesforce Platform Professionals, which will open up 150 places from now till 2023.

READ: Companies hunt for talent as Singapore tech sector continues to grow

Over six months, participants will be trained both in the classroom and on the job to use and apply Salesforce’s customer relationship management tools, WSG said.

A pilot of the PCP ran in September 2018, the agency added. 

There were more than 40 participants employed across 15 companies, of which 45 per cent were either mature workers or individuals unemployed for more than six months. They were retrained to take on roles such as business analysts and software developers.

One of them is Joel Yeo, head of strategy and growth at solutions consultancy firm Attribute Data.

After being retrenched from his role as the head of marketing at Visa, Mr Yeo took part in the conversion programme from January to June last year to pick up the technical skills necessary to qualify for his position at Attribute Data.

Doing so saved him time and money on a technology-related part-time degree or diploma, he said.

Attribute Data’s managing director Joanna Teo said the programme has been particularly helpful in finding employees who have the relevant business background but lack the technical skills.

It has been difficult for the small firm to compete against the MNCs for workers, she said. Recruiting off the PCP has given them a “ready pool of talent who are willing to learn”.

Through the programme, Ms Teo has hired eight out of 13 of her current employees. She plans to continue tapping on it as she expands her business overseas.

Editor's note: The numbers in the last paragraph of this article have been updated after WSG supplied new information.

Source: CNA/nc

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