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Oral Answer by Mrs Josephine Teo Minister for Manpower to PQ on Fair Employment Practices

NOTICE PAPER NO. 5 OF 2020 FOR THE SITTING ON 4 SEPTEMBER 2020
QUESTION NO. 19 FOR ORAL ANSWER

MP: Mr Yip Hon Weng


To ask the Minister for Manpower in light of more companies being put on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist, whether the Ministry will consider naming the errant companies to serve as a deterrent to others.

NOTICE PAPER NO. 6 OF 2020 FOR THE SITTING ON 4 SEPTEMBER 2020
QUESTION NO. 27 FOR ORAL ANSWER

MP: Mr Ang Wei Neng


To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) whether the Ministry will name the companies that have been placed on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watchlist for potentially discriminatory hiring practices; (b) whether any of the companies previously placed on FCF watchlist have been removed from the watchlist; and (c) if so, what are the criteria used.

NOTICE PAPER NO. 6 OF 2020 FOR THE SITTING ON OR AFTER 4 SEPTEMBER 2020
QUESTION NO. 39 FOR ORAL ANSWER

MP: Ms He Ting Ru


To ask the Minister for Manpower whether she can provide an update on the latest tripartite discussions relating to fair employment practices, in particular discriminatory hiring and human resource practices, including nationality, race, age and religious-based discrimination.

Answer

  1. Members have filed a number of Parliamentary Questions on the topic of fair employment practices. Some are for the next Sitting and others are for written answers. I appreciate that these questions are of concern to Singaporeans and seek members’ understanding to take these related questions together, so that we deal with them more holistically.

    Tripartite efforts to monitor employers’ practices
  2. Ms Foo Mee Har asked how employers’ employment practices are monitored and employers held accountable. Ms He Ting Ru asked about tripartite discussions on discriminatory practices. The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) spell out the principles and practices that all employers are expected to abide by. In practice, MOM works closely with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to follow up on all complaints of potential malpractices at workplaces. All forms of discrimination are covered, including for age, gender, ethnicity and family circumstances. We also monitor the workforce profile of firms for potential unfair hiring practices against Singaporeans.
  3. For example, MOM has regularly taken employers to task for pre-selecting a foreign candidate and disregarding qualified local candidates. This year alone, 90 employers have had their work pass privileges suspended because of infringements under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), including for age and gender discrimination. This means that the company cannot renew existing work passes or have new applications approved, some for as long as two years. These penalties are serious, and the employers know it. To stay in business, it will be necessary to boost local employment.

    FCF Watchlist
  4. To questions by Mr Louis Chua and Mr Seah Kian Peng, there are currently about 400 firms placed on the FCF Watchlist for having a higher share of foreign PMETs compared to their industry peers, or high concentration of a single foreign nationality source. Employment Pass (EP) applications from these firms are held back, while TAFEP engages these firms to help them improve their human resource practices.
  5. Mr Yip Hon Weng, Mr Ang Wei Neng and Mr Louis Chua suggested publicly naming firms placed on the FCF Watchlist. Mr Chua further asked for these firms’ access to Government grants and tax incentives schemes to be withdrawn.
  6. As I explained in Parliament on 1 September 2020, unlike firms who, we have taken to task for infringements, firms on the FCF Watchlist have not flouted any rules. Instead, we have identified them through proactive surveillance. We are watching them. Members may recall that on Tuesday, I shared a few examples. Upon investigation, we found some employers to be genuinely unfamiliar with local recruitment channels, or whose recruitment had been limited by directives imposed by overseas headquarters. Measures we take must therefore be proportional and also consider the impact on their existing local workforce.
  7. In most instances, employers on the FCF Watchlist have been responsive to TAFEP’s engagement efforts and expanded their employment of local PMETs with help from WSG. Naming these firms would likely have frustrated their local hiring efforts and is ultimately counter-productive. Instead, following TAFEP’s intervention, many firms exit the FCF Watchlist within a year. For the minority who are uncooperative, refusing to make adjustments even after options have been suggested to them, their work pass privileges remain suspended.
  8. This approach has served us well. Since 2016, more than 1,200 employers have been scrutinised under the FCF. In all, 3,200 EP applications by these employers have been rejected or withheld by MOM, or withdrawn subsequently. On the other hand, firms on the FCF Watchlist have hired more than 4,800 Singaporean PMETs in total. This comes on top of all the local employees they managed to retain.
  9. We plan to proactively engage even more companies under the FCF, such as those whose Singaporean core has been weakening, or whose EP and S Pass workforce are concentrated with a single foreign nationality source. We will work with economic agencies like EDB and MAS to engage these firms to improve their workforce profile. We will also engage the HR community to do more.
  10. Whether or not the firms are on the FCF Watchlist, where MOM has found evidence of discriminatory hiring practices, we have taken the companies to task and publicised the names of the firms. In January 2020, MOM released the names of four employers penalised for pre-selection of foreigners or not adhering to the spirit of the FCF job advertising requirement, and one employer for gender-related discriminatory hiring. In March 2020, MOM released the names of five employers penalised for age-related discriminatory hiring. This is no different than if the company had been charged in court for employment offenses.

    Tripartite consultations on fair cost-saving measures and retrenchments
  11. On Ms He Ting Ru’s question, tripartite consultations in recent months have similarly focused on ensuring fairness when companies implement cost-saving measures or have to retrench workers.
  12. First, on cost-saving measures, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened in March this year and was re-convened in August. It is expected to update guidelines on managing excess manpower within this month.
  13. Since March this year, MOM has introduced a new requirement for employers to notify MOM of their cost-saving measures. To Ms Foo Mee Har’s question, we identify companies whose notifications are concerning, and TAFEP engages them to assess whether their measures are fair and reasonable. Of the 850 employers engaged, close to 40% reviewed their cost-saving measures to give more wage support to employees. Similarly, we mediated another 1,000 or so complaints by employees.
  14. Second, on retrenchments, MOM, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) jointly updated the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment (TAMEM) in March.
  15. In addition, MOM requires employers with 10 or more employees that have retrenched at least 5 employees within any 6-month period to submit a retrenchment notification. This covers close to 90% of the workforce in Singapore. Through the notification regime, we actively monitor retrenchment practices. Vast majority of the retrenchments have been conducted fairly and responsibly. Firms that have not done so fairly will be investigated and MOM may take strong enforcement actions such as suspending their work pass privileges.
  16. To Mr Patrick Tay’s suggestion to expand the notification to more employers, we are mindful not to impose excessive reporting requirements on SMEs and micro-SMEs where the effort may not be commensurate with impact. Nonetheless, they are encouraged to notify MOM, so that Workforce Singapore (WSG), the tripartite partners and other relevant agencies can step in promptly to provide job assistance to affected employees. We have also expanded outreach efforts to job seekers, so that retrenched workers may get help even if their employers did not notify MOM.

    Conclusion
  17. In the current economic climate, MOM understands Singaporeans need greater assurance that they have a fair chance for job opportunities and are treated fairly at their workplaces. MOM and our tripartite partners will continue to guard against unfair hiring or retrenchment practices and take appropriate action against errant employers.