Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Manpower

250 firms on watch list for unfair employment practices

About 50 companies that were unfair to Singaporeans when hiring workers have been taken to task, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Monday (March 6).
About 50 companies that were unfair to Singaporeans when hiring workers have been taken to task, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Monday (March 6).PHOTO: GOV.SG/YOUTUBE

About 50 companies that were unfair to Singaporeans when hiring workers have been taken to task, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday.

More than 500 Employment Pass applications from these employers have been rejected by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) or withdrawn by the companies, he said.

These firms are among the 250 on the Fair Consideration Framework watch list, which tracks firms not doing enough to hire and groom Singaporeans. The framework was introduced in 2014 to get companies to look for suitable Singaporeans before hiring foreign professionals.

Responding to four MPs who asked about the list during the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Lim provided an update on the scheme's effectiveness to date.

At the end of last month, there were 250 companies - in industries ranging from information and communications technology to professional services - on the watch list, up from 100 at the start.

These companies get guidance over six months from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to improve their employment practices.

Some have responded positively by recruiting and grooming more local talent, said Mr Lim. Collectively, these firms have hired 800 more Singaporean professionals, managers and executives since being placed on the watch list.

Those that continue to improve can be progressively removed from the list, he added. As for the 50 or so uncooperative firms, he said: "We will continue to curtail their work pass privileges until they improve."

Mr Lim also shared plans to develop more progressive employers.

The Human Capital Partnership programme was launched last month - with 74 employers who employ about 100,000 Singaporeans - to recognise exemplary employers who invest in staff development.

MOM will now treat companies differently based on their employment practices, he said.

Human Capital Partnership partners will be given "fast lane" access to development schemes and services such as SkillsFuture, as well as a dedicated hotline to MOM, while the majority who are fair employers will be in the "normal lane". Those on the watch list for unfair HR practices will be in the "slow lane", and subject to additional scrutiny when it comes to work pass applications.

While foreign manpower "is and will always be an integral part" of Singapore's workforce, employers must give fair consideration to recruiting and developing local manpower, Mr Lim stressed.

There are about 1.2 million foreign workers, excluding foreign domestic workers, he said. About 40 per cent of these foreign workers take on labour-intensive jobs few locals want, in sectors such as construction. And while about 45 per cent of them do jobs that locals will opt for, "we do not have enough locals to do these jobs", he said, citing the shortage of Singaporean integrated circuit design engineers.

The remaining 15 per cent of foreigners are in global headquarters. He said this is a boon for locals: There are about seven locals for every three foreigners in this segment.

"On the whole, most of the foreigners working in Singapore do complement our local workforce rather than substitute our locals," said Mr Lim.

The persistent view that "foreigners are here to take away our jobs" is due to employers in some segments not giving fair consideration to the recruitment and development of local manpower, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline '250 firms on watch list for unfair employment practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe