Parliament: About 400 firms on watch list for likely discrimination against Singaporeans

MOM is scrutinising about 400 companies on its Fair Consideration Framework watch list, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Sept 4, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - About 400 companies are being scrutinised by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for potentially discriminating against Singaporeans in their hiring.

These employers on the Fair Consideration Framework watch list have a higher share of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) compared with their industry peers, or a high concentration of employees from a single foreign nationality source, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Friday (Sept 4).

Businesses on the watch list have their applications for Employment Passes delayed or rejected until they buck up.

In the meantime, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) will help them to improve their human resource practices.

No Temasek-linked companies have been put on the watch list, Mrs Teo said in Parliament.

And the reason is not that they were given any special concession or treatment, but because the proactive surveillance that the ministry carried out did not pick them up, she added.

The minister was replying to Workers' Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC).

About 10 MPs raised questions about efforts to ensure fair employment for Singaporeans, including some whom Mrs Teo said had already filed questions on the topic for the next sitting of Parliament, which is expected to be in October.

The topic was also intensely covered during the five-day debate this week on the President's Address.

Mrs Teo said that after Tafep intervenes, many companies exit the watch list within a year. But they continue to be watched, and will be put back on the watch list if they revert to their old patterns of hiring and have a skewed workforce profile.

Of the 1,200 firms scrutinised since 2016, less than 10 per cent were uncooperative and have had their work pass privileges suspended, meaning they cannot hire foreigners. They remain on the watch list.

She further said that while MOM is stepping up enforcement efforts to ensure fair hiring, it does not intend to name the companies on the watch list - which some MPs have called for.

The reason is that MOM's goal is to get companies to do better in their hiring of local PMETs, not to frustrate them till they leave Singapore or close down, which would affect all their existing local workers as well, she added.

"The actions that we take must be proportional and it must also not create so much difficulties for the existing PMETs in their workforce who are local and would very much like to keep their jobs."

Mrs Teo also told the House that her ministry will continue to look at better ways of identifying possible discriminatory companies, so that they can be spotted swiftly, without mistake.

Also, it will explore measures that will push the companies to hasten the reshaping of their workforce profile.

Mrs Teo stressed that the companies on the watch list have not flouted any rules.

They were picked up through scrutiny of their workforce composition and how they have responded to applicants for jobs posted on the portal.

She made the point when replying to Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), who had suggested using a "mystery shopper" approach to test whether companies have a clear pattern of rejecting certain applications even at the early stage of perusing their resume.

The "proactive surveillance" by her ministry carries out has uncovered more companies than complaints have, she added.

Mrs Teo also cautioned against always assuming employers are not trying to do their part, have something to hide and do not face any difficulties.

Employers have said they run into very serious challenges in reaching out to potential job seekers, she added.

"So we have to take a balanced approach and ask ourselves, what is the combination of actions that will be most helpful to the businesses, which, in turn, will be more helpful in expanding opportunities for our own people."

Her ministry is constantly trying to strike that balance, she said.

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