Call to curb biased hiring by naming firms on watch list

A senior labour MP has called on the authorities to disclose the names of companies put on a watch list for biased hiring, to improve transparency and send a strong signal that such behaviour must stop.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay told The Straits Times yesterday that “it is ever more critical for us to ensure that Singaporeans are considered fairly, especially in the current employment climate”.

He has been lobbying to tighten the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) to ensure workplaces are fair and progressive, and to strongly deter unfair hiring practices.

The FCF was introduced in 2014 to maintain a strong Singaporean core in PMET (professional, managerial, executive and technician) jobs and requires employers to assess Singaporeans fairly for all job openings.

Amid concerns from job seekers in a tough job market caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday that 47 more employers were recently added to the FCF watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices, on top of an earlier 1,200.

Eighteen of these firms have foreigners comprising over half of their PMET workforce. Thirty are in the financial and professional services, and were found to have a high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities – significantly higher than their industry peers.

Their Employment Pass (EP) applications for foreign hires will be closely scrutinised, and those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.

Mr Tay said disclosing the companies’ names will allow job seekers to be better informed.

Asked why MOM did not name companies on the watch list, which was first introduced in 2016, a ministry spokesman told ST that it will periodically publicise the names of firms that are found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices.

“For example, in March 2020, MOM released the names of five employers penalised for age-related discriminatory hiring,” it said.

They are: education centre Wisdomtree Learning Centre, events company Outshinerz Events, and security firm Security & Risk Solutions, all of which had indicated preferred age criteria in job ads. Two related companies, Incredible Service Doc and IDOC, granted interviews only to female Chinese applicants under the age of 45.

For breaching Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, MOM barred the five firms from hiring foreigners and from renewing the work passes of existing foreign employees for 12 months.

Mr Tay proposed two other measures to tackle biased hiring: Remove the exemption for intra-corporate transferees (ICTs), and have tougher measures and penal sanctions against companies that treat the FCF as “mere window dressing” or find ways to circumvent the requirements through the use of exemptions.

He said: “This will help level the playing field for Singaporean job seekers, such that as long as they are competent and qualified for the job, they can apply and be considered for the position.”

Currently, a job is exempted from the FCF advertising requirement if it will be filled by an ICT.

The requirement states that employers must advertise positions for Singaporeans on Jobs Bank – launched in 2014 to facilitate job matching for local job seekers – before they can apply for an EP.

To be exempted, the EP candidate has to meet the stringent definition of ICTs under the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, or any applicable free trade pact that Singapore is party to. This includes term limits and a minimum number of years of work experience in the company outside Singapore.

Yesterday, MOM said the FCF watch list was introduced to proactively identify employers suspected of discriminatory hiring practices.

Through the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices’ engagement, firms suspected of discriminatory hiring practices will be referred to MOM for investigation and action, it said.

MOM added that those on the watch list have to take immediate actions to correct their practices, and will be assessed every six months.

“If they improve on their hiring practices, they will exit the watch list. Only a handful of firms have been put back on the watch list after exiting it.”

Calls for tougher measures have been raised in Parliament. Last November, Senior Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said the FCF watch list has shifted employer behaviour, but has not gone unnoticed: “If leading global companies think twice about investing in Singapore or rethink their future plans for Singapore, the result could be fewer good jobs for Singaporeans. So, it is a delicate balancing act.”

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