More Singapore employers investigated for possible discriminatory hiring practices

Tafep investigated about 260 cases of such practices in the first half of this year.
Tafep investigated about 260 cases of such practices in the first half of this year.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - More employers are being investigated for possible discriminatory hiring practices, said a report on employment practices released on Thursday (Nov 19).

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 full year of 2019.

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, said an MOM spokesman 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 that breach the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices will be barred from hiring new foreign workers or renewing existing ones for 12 months to 24 months, under stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring beginning 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 added 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.

Thursday’s report by MOM, Tafep and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management said that perceptions of discrimination appear to have been going up, based on a ministry survey in 2018.

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 same 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 on Thursday that the issue of discriminatory hiring must continue to be closely watched. 

“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.

MOM also received about 580 complaints between May and August this year related to cost-saving measures taken by some 470 employers, said the report. The vast majority were able to resolve their disputes amicably after the ministry assessed the fairness of the measures.

For example, a steward at a local hotel filed a complaint against her employer as she was only paid for the work done during the two-month circuit breaker period, which came up to about 10 days per month, but she felt she should be receiving at least 75 per cent of her salary as her employer received financial support from the Jobs Support Scheme.

She also said she was asked to perform tasks which did not require interacting with guests even though she was hired as a steward.

The employer explained to MOM that it was operating at a loss even with the financial support from the Government, and as occupancy was low it was unable to provide more work for staff and pay full salaries. The hotel management met every employee individually to explain the situation to them and seek their agreement on the cost-saving measures.

MOM assessed that the measures of no-pay leave and shorter work arrangements were fair and reasonable to keep business operations sustainable, and the complainant also accepted the explanation and withdrew her complaint.

MOM also received complaints involving about 80 employers regarding the quantum of retrenchment benefit that they had given their employees. The ministry found that more than 60 per cent of the employers had provided fair and reasonable retrenchment benefits, while the others had genuine financial difficulties. 

To date, no employer has been found to wilfully refuse to channel government support to proper use, said the report.

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

About 250,000 employees faced wage cuts between March and September this year, according to the notifications received by MOM.

This is about 7 per cent of the 3,366,000 people estimated to be working here in September, excluding foreign domestic workers.

As at the end of September, the ministry had received close to 7,300 notifications on cost-cutting measures from about 5,000 employers.

Tafep proactively engaged about 900 employers whose salary cuts affecting close to 52,000 employees appeared to be excessive, and close to 330 of them agreed to review their measures. The remainder were able to justify the necessity of the measures for business survival.