Debate on ministries' budgets

500 firms marked for bias towards hiring foreigners

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say

Employment Pass applications from firms on watchlist are scrutinised more closely

A total of 500 companies have been put on a government watchlist over the past two years for unfairly favouring foreigners in their hiring.

Such "triple weak" companies - which hire a high proportion of foreigners, have no plans to recruit more Singaporeans and contribute little to the economy - have their Employment Pass (EP) applications scrutinised more closely.

Since February 2016, 1,900 EP applications have either been rejected or withheld by the ministry, or withdrawn by the companies, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said during the debate on his ministry's budget yesterday.

The companies on the watchlist are from various sectors and include headhunters, he said.

"They have the pre-conceived idea that local PMETs are either unable or unwilling to do the job, so they write them off without even considering them fairly," he said, in reference to professionals, managers, executives and technicians.

Mr Lim was responding to MPs Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) and Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) who asked for an update on the list.

Mr Lim said organisations such as the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) and the institutes of higher learning have since worked with some of the blacklisted companies to improve their human resource practices and hire fresh graduates and mid-career local PMETs.

WRITING LOCALS OFF

They have the pre-conceived idea that local PMETs are either unable or unwilling to do the job, so they write them off without even considering them fairly.

MANPOWER MINISTER LIM SWEE SAY, on companies that have been put on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist.

  • What it means

  • Companies will be placed on a watchlist if they are assessed to:

    • Employ a high proportion of foreigners;

    • Not have plans to recruit and train more Singaporeans; and

    • Have low contribution to the economy and society.

    These companies will find it harder to have Employment Pass applications approved.

So far, more than 2,200 Singaporeans have been hired and 150 companies have exited the watchlist.

For example, an information technology services firm with more than 1,000 PMET employees was placed on the watchlist in February 2016. But after working with Tafep and the Infocomm Media Development Authority, it hired about 200 more Singaporeans and has since been removed from the list.

Today, it continues to adopt fairer and more progressive human resource practices, said Mr Lim.

A wealth management firm with 80 PMETs was also placed on the watchlist two years ago as it used to hire mostly foreigners to serve its clients, who were mostly expatriates. Since then, it has started serving more local clients and hired 30 Singaporean PMETs, and trained them in Singapore and overseas.

This, noted Mr Lim, was a "win-win outcome".

But of the remaining 350 companies on the list, 60 have not been cooperative and showed no sign of improvement.

"We have curtailed their work pass privileges," said Mr Lim. This means that they have had no new EP applications approved and no renewal of existing EPs.

When asked, the Manpower Ministry declined to give more details of the firms on the watchlist, including the common industries they are in.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline '500 firms marked for bias towards hiring foreigners'. Print Edition | Subscribe