More employers investigated for unfair hiring practices

Watchdog handled 260 such cases in first half of the year, up 60% from same period last year

ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

More employers are being investigated for possible discriminatory hiring practices, according to a report on employment practices released yesterday.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), the national watchdog on fair employment, investigated about 260 cases of such practices in the first half of this year, 60 per cent more than the 160 cases in the same period last year.

Some 90 employers eventually had their work pass privileges suspended due to discriminatory hiring practices as at August this year, up from 35 for the whole of last year.

This means the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) barred them from hiring new foreigners or renewing the work passes of existing foreign staff for a period of time.

About 43 per cent of them were identified through data analytics as part of MOM's proactive investigation efforts. The remaining 57 per cent were identified based on complaints received by the ministry and Tafep, an MOM spokesman said in response to media queries.

The spokesman said the ministry's analytics model helps it proactively identify employers who may have pre-selected foreigners when hiring or not adhered to the spirit of the Fair Consideration Framework job advertising requirement when submitting Employment Pass applications.

Errant employers which breach the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices will be barred from hiring new foreign workers or renewing the work passes of existing ones for 12 months to 24 months, under stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring that took effect this year.

Ms Christine Loh, director of MOM's employment standards enforcement department, said in a media statement that the ministry will continue to raise awareness of employment rights and obligations.

"MOM will also remain vigilant in investigating discriminatory practices and will take errant employers to task so as to build fair workplaces for all Singaporeans," she said.

Tafep general manager Faith Li said that Tafep has stepped up efforts to scrutinise more cases of potential workplace discrimination and will continue to work with MOM to take action against discriminatory employers.

Yesterday's report by MOM, Tafep and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) said perceptions of discrimination appear to have strengthened, based on a ministry survey in 2018.

  • $23m Total amount of owed salaries recovered for claims filed between Jan 1 last year and June 30 this year.

    90% Percentage of employees who lodged salary claims between Jan 1 last year and June 30 this year who fully recovered their salaries at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management or the Employment Claims Tribunals.

    75 Claims about dismissal during pregnancy lodged between April 1 last year and June 30 this year.

    1,431 Other claims for wrongful dismissal lodged between April 1 last year and June 30 this year.

    333 Wrongful dismissal claims lodged between April 1 last year and June 30 this year under Section 14 of the Employment Act, by managers and executives earning over $4,500 a month, covered under the Act since April 1 last year. They would not have been able to lodge such claims before.

The percentage of those who felt there was discrimination during their job search process rose to 15 per cent in 2018, up from 10 per cent in 2014. Age-related discrimination remained the most commonly perceived form, while the biggest percentage point increase in perceived discrimination was based on personal characteristics of gender and number of children.

This is despite the survey finding that seven in 10 private sector firms have structured human resources processes and objective criteria in their assessment of job applicants.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said in a Facebook post yes-terday that the issue of discriminatory hiring must continue to be closely watched.

  • Technical officer recovers close to $10,000 owed, thanks to mediation

  • With the end of his two-year contract looming, a Singaporean technical officer who was employed by a consultancy firm in the construction sector was getting worried.

    His employer owed him close to $10,000 and was unresponsive to his queries.

    The man had not received about $5,000 in overtime pay from December last year to February this year, as well as a bonus of about $4,000 for working on a project from start to end.

    The technical officer, who gave his name as Mr Abdul Rahim, filed a salary claim at the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) in March.

    The TADM mediator reviewed his salary claims with both parties over the phone and e-mail, avoiding face-to-face mediation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The employer agreed to pay up, but when Mr Rahim, 54, was about to collect the cheque, Malaysia issued the movement control order.

    He was working on a housing project in Malaysia at the time and living there, so he was unable to come to Singapore to collect the cheque.

    The TADM mediator contacted the employer for an alternative payment arrangement, and the employer agreed to deposit the cheque on Mr Rahim's behalf.

    Mr Rahim said that he felt happy to receive the settlement within a month.

    "The mediator was friendly and impartial and listened to both parties. He helped me and my employer resolve the dispute amicably," he said.

    "I even recommended to my friend that he approach TADM for his salary disputes too, instead of going to a lawyer."

    Joanna Seow

"On top of existing penalties, the Government could also rescind preferential tax benefits from companies that continue unfair recruitment practices and disallow them from winning public sector contracts, or publish the names of recalcitrant firms that repeatedly fail to show concerted efforts to strengthen the Singaporean core," he said.

The report also covered measures taken to protect employees amid business and workplace challenges brought about by the Covid-19 crisis.

Since March, employers with 10 or more employees have had to notify MOM if they take cost-saving measures that affect employees' monthly salaries.

MOM has also required all employers with employees staying in dormitories to pay salaries electronically since April so that workers can receive their pay despite movement restrictions.

As at end-August, about 90 per cent of employers had complied, up from 76 per cent before the requirement was introduced.

Since May, all construction sector employers have also had to submit monthly declarations on the status of salary payment to their foreign employees. MOM has received a monthly response rate of 97 per cent from about 14,000 employers, with more than 90 per cent of these declaring that they paid salaries promptly.

TADM followed up with the remainder and recovered salaries owed to about 9,000 foreign workers between May and August, said yesterday's report.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2020, with the headline 'More employers investigated for unfair hiring practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe