SINGAPORE - An average of 50 employers have had their work pass privileges suspended in each of the last three years due to employment discrimination.
Of these, 60 per cent had involved discrimination based on nationality, Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang told Parliament on Thursday (March 4).
Another one-third involved an equal split between gender and age discrimination, while the remaining cases involved other types of discrimination such as race, marital status or family responsibilities.
In total, the national watchdog on fair employment practices has investigated an average of 400 cases of possible discrimination annually in the past three years, Ms Gan said.
This is a slight dip from the number of cases the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) had looked into in preceding years, even as more employers were investigated for unfair hiring practices last year.
Ms Gan was responding to a parliamentary question by Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) of the Workers' Party.
Apart from suspending work pass privileges, the Ministry of Manpower also issues warnings to employers for less severe breaches, such as lapses in human resource practices which resulted in discrimination during recruitment.
In these cases, Tafep steps in and requires employers to make rectifications. MOM issued an average of 40 warnings annually, said Ms Gan.
In a follow-up question, Mr Perera asked if the Government conducts regular surveys on public perceptions of discrimination, and how these views have changed.
Ms Gan said regular opinion polls are carried out to track public perception of fair employment practices.
While employers have made progress over the years, MOM observed an increase in the percentage of local job seekers who perceived discrimination in their job search between 2014 and 2018.
Mr Perera also asked if there have been cases of companies found to have engaged in discriminatory practices that faced penalties not involving the curtailment of foreign work passes, especially if they did not employ foreign workers to begin with.
Ms Gan responded that in cases such as discriminatory dismissal, the employers can be ordered by the Employment Claims Tribunal to compensate their employees.
Employment agencies can also have demerit points imposed against them and have their licences suspended or revoked if they accumulate too many.
"We also take companies to task for false declarations of fair hiring practices. In the past, we have sought legal action against such companies."
Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked if the guidelines will be reviewed so the penalty is relevant to the type of discrimination, as it would not make sense to suspend work pass privileges in cases of discrimination based on gender or family responsibilities.
Ms Gan said that the framework was reviewed last year and it will continue to be reviewed if necessary.
Tafep investigated about 260 cases of possible discriminatory hiring practices in the first half of last year, compared to 160 in the same period, according to a report on employment practices released last November.
About 90 employers eventually had their work pass privileges suspended due to discriminatory hiring practices as at August 2020, up from 35 for the whole of 2019.
A total of 2,100 cases of complaints on unfair employment practices were looked into by MOM and Tafep in the four years from 2014, the ministry had said in response to a parliamentary question in 2018.