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70 employers penalised for discriminatory hiring practices in H1 2020, double 2019's figure: MOM

CBD - 2019 - ST file.jpg
There was an increase in the number of salary claims that took a longer time to resolve.

THE number of employers who were penalised for discriminatory hiring practices in the first half of 2020 was double the number for the whole of 2019, as Singapore authorities stepped up their investigations through the use of data analytics.

For the first six months of the year, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) looked into 260 cases of possibly discriminatory hiring practices, up from about 160 for the same period in 2019, according to the Employment Standards Report 2019/2020 released on Thursday.

Substantiated cases were referred to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) for investigations and enforcement, the report said.

As a result, MOM curtailed the work pass privileges of about 70 employers for discriminatory hiring practices in the first half of 2020, up from 35 in the whole of 2019, it said.

"The increase was due to more public education efforts on reporting instances of workplace discrimination to Tafep, as well as MOM's enhanced detection of unfair hiring behaviour via data analytics," an MOM spokesperson said in response to media queries.

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"Our analytics model has effectively allowed us to cast our net wider, and proactively identify employers for investigation."

For example, companies that hire foreigners would need to apply for work passes, and this is one of the clues that could trigger the ministry's criteria for when to take action, based on its use of data analytics.

Similarly, the use of data analytics has helped MOM identify more than 7,300 "high-risk" workplaces, allowing the ministry to carry out more than 7,300 proactive inspections. This helped to ensure that some 52,400 employees received their employment dues, such as prompt payment of salary and for overtime work, according to the report.

Examples of risk factors include whether the sector is facing difficulties, or whether employers have had a track record of "unsavoury" practices.

Put together by MOM, Tafep and the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM), the 2018 edition of the report covered one calendar year, while the latest version includes the full 2019 and the first half of 2020. The MOM spokesperson said the ministry wanted to provide a more comprehensive coverage of the employment landscape, considering the disruptions brought about by Covid-19.

Overall, the incidence of salary claims remained low during the one-and-a-half-year period.

There were 2.68 salary claims per 1,000 employees in 2019, compared to 2.42 in 2018. It fell to an annualised figure of 2.46 in the first half of 2020, due to fewer claims from foreign employees, according to the report.

However, there was an increase in the number of claims that took a longer time to resolve. In 2018, 84 per cent of claims were concluded within two months, but this fell to 78 per cent in 2019 and 73 per cent in the first half of 2020.

"This was partly due to an increase in the number of employment disputes involving group claims and more employers facing financial difficulties. Such claims generally take longer to resolve as the parties needed time to discuss and agree to an acceptable payment schedule," said the report.

This was exacerbated during the "circuit-breaker" period in April and May, where face-to-face communication between employers and employees was limited, it added.

Of the salary claims lodged between Jan 1, 2019 and June 30 this year, 90 per cent of employees successfully recovered their salaries fully at TADM or the Employment Claims Tribunals, with about half of the remaining employees partially recovering their pay.

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