New licensing conditions for employment agencies from Oct 1 to ensure they consider Singaporeans fairly

About three in 10 job vacancies are filled through employment agencies. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - New rules are being introduced to ensure employment agencies recruiting candidates on behalf of employers consider Singaporeans fairly for vacancies.

The agencies will need to fulfil this and other new conditions to be licensed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) from Oct 1 onwards, said the ministry in a statement on Monday (June 22).

It added that employment agencies with good hiring practices will be chosen as "placement partners", to help local job seekers secure jobs and traineeships under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

This comes as the Government moves to strengthen job opportunities for Singaporeans amid the more difficult labour market conditions as a result of Covid-19.

There are about 3,900 licensed agencies here and they fill about three in 10 job vacancies, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in a Facebook post on Monday.

"Most help to uphold fair hiring but every year, we still get about 20 complaints. Clearly, there's scope to bring EAs on board to uphold fair hiring," she said, adding that discrimination must not be tolerated anywhere, especially at the workplace.

Recounting her own experience when she was expecting her first child, she said she was told that her career progression might come to a standstill as people would assume she was no longer interested in taking on challenging assignments or no longer be able to cope.

"What I'd encountered is nothing compared to what some others have experienced with discrimination. Assumptions about what people can or cannot do because of their gender, family status, age, race, disability - they haven't gone away," said Mrs Teo.

"Unfortunately, these assumptions become invisible barriers for their victims to get into jobs or to advance in their careers, much to their own detriment and actually that of employers," she added.

Under the new rules, employment agencies must comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices when recruiting for employers, who are their clients.

These include having consistent and fair selection criteria throughout the recruitment process, such as in job application forms and interviews, and hiring and developing a Singaporean core.

Employment agencies must also make "reasonable efforts" to attract Singaporeans to the positions they are trying to fill. To do this, the agency could advertise job vacancies through online job boards or work with Workforce Singapore or NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute to search for local job seekers, for instance.

If the client asks them to limit their search, such as to an overseas country specialising in tech talent, while the client conducts other searches for local candidates, the agency must have a documented agreement to prove this.

Agencies must also consider all candidates based on merit, and not discriminate based on factors such as age, race, nationality, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, gender and disability. They must turn down requests or instructions from clients to carry out discriminatory hiring.

Employment agencies that fail to comply with the licensing conditions may be given demerit points, have their licence suspended or revoked, or face prosecution, said the MOM.

A ministry spokesman said that those who act in a manner detrimental to public interest can already be taken to task under the Employment Agencies Act, but the new licensing conditions clearly state their specific obligations to uphold fair hiring, in line with the tripartite guidelines which employers are also required to follow.

They can also be taken to task under the Fair Consideration Framework, which was introduced in 2014 to specifically target discrimination against locals.

Under the framework, firms with at least 10 employees must advertise openings for jobs paying below $20,000 a month on the national portal for at least 14 days before applying for an employment pass for a foreigner.

Those found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices will not be able to apply for new work passes nor renew existing work passes for between 12 and 24 months.

Ms Alena Salakhova, who chairs the Singapore executive committee of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies, which represents about 40 recruiters here, said although the new conditions will bring about more paperwork and may slow down the recruitment process having such a clear regulatory framework provides a level playing field for employment agencies.

She noted that Singapore is one of the few markets where the industry is licensed.

Ms Salakhova, who is also regional director for recruitment firm SThree, said she is glad the ministry consulted agencies when formulating the rules and is implementing some of their suggestions like having e-learning sessions to help their staff understand the new requirements.

"It's important that employment agencies are going to play the part of partners of the ministry to educate employers that they can't discriminate and must have fair hiring practices," she sadded.

MOM also said it will choose some employment agencies with fair hiring practices to place more vulnerable job seekers - those who are older, long-term unemployed or have disabilities - into jobs and traineeships under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package which was announced in the supplementary Fortitude Budget in May.

These agencies will receive funding support from the MOM, it said. More details will be provided later.

The Government aims to create close to 100,000 jobs, traineeships and training places for local job seekers over 12 months through the package, to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19.

Employment agencies that have a strong track record of helping employers strengthen their Singaporean core will be recognised with a Human Capital Partnership Mark for employment agencies, and receive faster consideration for work pass applications and a dedicated hotline with the MOM.

They must first qualify for the Human Capital Partnership (HCP) programme as an exemplary employer themselves.

The MOM is in the process of shortlisting employment agencies that qualify for the HCP Mark for employment agencies, and expects to admit the first group to the scheme later this year, it said.

There are about 550 employers on the Human Capital Partnership scheme so far.

They are listed on the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices website and can use the mark in their branding.

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