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 in order to be licensed by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) from Oct 1 onwards, the ministry said in a statement yesterday.
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, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday.
"Most help to uphold fair hiring, but every year, we still get about 20 complaints," 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 would 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.
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 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 the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute to search for local job seekers, for instance.
If the client asks the agency to limit its search to an overseas country specialising in technology talent, for example, while the client conducts other searches for local candidates, the agency must have a documented agreement to prove this.
Employment agencies must also consider all candidates based on merit and turn down requests or instructions from clients to carry out discriminatory hiring.
Agencies that fail to comply with the licensing conditions may be given demerit points, have their licence suspended or revoked, or face prosecution, said MOM.
They can be taken to task under the Employment Agencies Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Fair Consideration Framework, which was introduced in 2014 to specifically target discrimination against locals.
Under the framework, those found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices will not be able to apply for new work passes or 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 that although the new conditions will increase paperwork and may slow down the recruitment process, having such a clear regulatory framework provides a level playing field for employment agencies.
"It is 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," added Ms Salakhova, who is also regional director for recruitment firm SThree.
MOM also said yesterday that 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 last month.
These agencies will receive funding support from MOM, it said. More details will be pro-vided later.
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 MOM.