Friday 17 January 2020

Stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring practices in updated Fair Consideration Framework

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
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2020

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.

Logistics firm first to be charged with false declaration on fair hiring of Singaporeans
It chose employment pass applicant without intending to consider local candidates: MOM
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2020

A logistics firm has become the first company to be charged in court for falsely declaring it had considered local candidates for a job fairly before trying to employ a foreigner.

Ti2 Logistics was charged in the State Courts yesterday with making the false declaration to the Controller of Work Passes in an employment pass application.

The firm is facing prosecution in court after changes to the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF).

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday shared details of the changes, which include the prosecution of employers and key personnel for making false declarations on fair consideration, and a longer debarment duration for companies. Debarred firms cannot apply for or renew work passes. The changes took effect earlier this month.

Those convicted of a false declaration under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act may be jailed for up to two years, fined up to $20,000, or both.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) found Ti2 Logistics had falsely declared that it interviewed two Singapore citizens and considered local candidates fairly for a business development manager post.

However, the firm had already pre-selected an employment pass applicant and had no intention to interview any local candidates, the ministry said in a statement.

According to charge sheets seen by The Straits Times, the application was submitted to MOM's Work Pass Division in July last year for a Zhou Jianxin. If found guilty, Ti2 Logistics may be fined up to $20,000.

MOM has debarred Ti2 Logistics from hiring new foreign workers and renewing existing work passes for 24 months.

Four other firms have also been given stiffer penalties after the updates to the FCF.

Solar equipment manufacturer Meyer Burger was given a debarment period of 24 months after it was found to have pre-selected an employment pass applicant and failed to interview local applicants who had responded to its advertisement on national jobs platform Jobs Bank for a process engineer position.

The firm's human resources team, which is based overseas, interviewed the foreign applicant and found him suitable for the position here, but the applicant did not meet the criteria specified in the ad.

While firms are free to locate their HR functions abroad, they must be fully compliant with Singapore's laws and regulations and the ignorance of the HR team overseas is not a mitigating factor, MOM said.

In another case, employment agency Meow Services was debarred from hiring new foreign workers and renewing existing work passes for 12 months after it posted a discriminatory ad for male production operators, which runs afoul of the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.

All employment agencies are expected to be familiar with the guidelines and brief and train their staff accordingly, MOM said.

Mrs Teo said the ministry will be looking into how intermediaries, such as employment agencies, can be better regulated to ensure fair employment practices.

Nihon Premium Clinic, which provides general medicine and surgery services, was debarred for 12 months after it put out a job ad without describing key criteria for candidates, which resulted in none of the Jobs Bank applicants being suitable for consideration.

Information and communications technology firm Tarantula Global Holdings was also debarred for 12 months after it was found to have pre-selected an employment pass applicant before an ad for the position was placed. It did not consider or interview any Jobs Bank candidates.

Stiffer penalties for unfair hiring a strong deterrent, say experts
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 15 Jan 2020

The updates to the Fair Consideration Framework are a strong deterrent that will make firms more likely to practise fair hiring consideration, experts said.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday announced changes to the framework, under which firms with discriminatory hiring practices face stiffer penalties which include debarment from applying for and renewing work passes for at least 12 months, up from a minimum six months previously.

This could go up to 24 months for more egregious cases.

Associate Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School said that extending the debarment to include renewal of existing work passes has "serious implications for companies and is likely to be a significant deterrent".

"With these changes, there is a strong and broader message for greater equity in hiring between local and foreign workers," he said.

Mr Ang Yuit, vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said businesses have been given ample time since the introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework in 2014 to adopt fair hiring practices.

While the number of errant firms is not large, Mr Ang said that there will be a massive impact to those penalised, especially since those in violation of the regulations are likely to be heavily reliant on foreign manpower, and it is a "heavy signal" from the authorities for firms to take the framework seriously.

Asia Polyurethane Manufacturing chief executive Erman Tan, who is former president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said the changes to the framework reflect the importance that the Government is placing on developing local talent.

"It's a sign of their commitment to train and promote and safeguard the long-term interests of local talent," he said.

Businesses hit by penalties will be significantly disrupted, Mr Tan said, noting that 12 months is a long time and debarment from applying for or renewing work passes would likely upset projects and deployments that firms have put in place.

In a Facebook post yesterday, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said that the changes would "strengthen the Singaporean core" and combat nationality discrimination.

Blacklisting and highlighting specific companies sends a strong signal to the errant company, the industry and the labour market as a whole, he added.

Prof Loh, who is also director of the Centre for Governance, Institutions and Organisations at the NUS Business School, said that making a move to prosecute companies which make false declarations on fair consideration also sends a strong signal to firms that they should not misrepresent their actions.

But while this is a step in the right direction, there are also challenges in dealing with such firms, he noted.

"With the issue of false declarations, there are a lot of grey areas as you are not looking at objective factors, the whole process of (hiring consideration) is qualitative," Prof Loh said.

This challenge was acknowledged by Mrs Teo yesterday, who said that discrimination is not easy to investigate, as what an employee considers discriminatory action may be considered by the employer as a result of poor performance.

She said: "MOM (Manpower Ministry) must look hard for evidence, which may not be clear-cut. Nonetheless, we are committed to eradicating discrimination."

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