Firms to pay heavier price if they don't give locals a fair shot at jobs

They face stiffer penalties for discrimination and prosecution in court for false declaration

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Employers who discriminate against locals when they recruit now face stiffer penalties and could be prosecuted in court if they make false declarations on their hiring considerations.

The new regime has kicked in with changes to the Fair Consideration Framework, which was introduced in 2014 to specifically target discrimination against locals and has now been given sharper teeth.

While most employers have adapted to it since, it is timely now to weed out the minority that still think they can treat the job advertising requirement in the framework as a paper exercise, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

Firms must advertise openings for jobs paying below $15,000 a month on the national Jobs Bank for at least 14 days before applying for an employment pass for a foreigner.

Some try to game this.

"In places where the workforce is multinational, like Singapore, perceptions of discrimination against locals are particularly toxic," said Mrs Teo, noting that other forms of workplace discrimination, such as those based on age and gender, are just as unacceptable.

She said that it is important for Singapore to stay open and help businesses put together the best possible team to compete on the world stage.

But this requires a balance of foreigners and local workers - which means regulating the flow of foreigners coming to work in Singapore and investing to build up a local pipeline to help businesses grow here, she added.

Employers must practise fair consideration including for local applicants, and hire on merit, Mrs Teo said.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices followed up on around 2,000 complaints of discrimination from 2014 to 2018, she noted.

Of those complaints, action was taken against employers in 680 cases, with 280 cases resulting in debarment from hiring new foreign workers.

Half of these cases were for nationality discrimination, and the others for other forms of discrimination, such as age and gender.

Mrs Teo said that cases where action has been taken include those where employers had pre-selected foreigners for job positions and went through the motions of advertising the role, and omitted critical job requirements so there were no suitable applicants, and those who made false declarations to the ministry that they considered local candidates fairly when they did not.

Under the updated framework, employers found guilty of discrimination will not be able to renew work passes for existing employees during the period of debarment. In the past, debarment mostly applied to new work pass applications.

In addition, these errant employers will not be able to apply for new work passes for at least 12 months - up from the minimum of six months previously. The debarment period can extend to 24 months for the "most egregious cases", said Mrs Teo.

These changes to the Fair Consideration Framework took effect earlier this month.

Employers who falsely declare that they have considered all candidates fairly will also now be prosecuted in court and face up to two years in jail, if found guilty.

Yesterday, logistics firm Ti2 Logistics became the first to be charged for falsely declaring it had fairly considered locals before trying to hire a foreigner.

The harsher penalties will deter would-be and recalcitrant employers and businesses, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay in a Facebook post.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline Firms to pay heavier price if they don't give locals a fair shot at jobs. Subscribe