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MOM raises penalties for unfair hiring practices; firm charged over false declaration

If caught, employers can now be barred from applying for work pass renewals for existing workers; previously, debarment applied only to new applications

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The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has upped the penalities for unfair hiring, even as an employer has become the first to be accused in court of making a false declaration following a probe into the company's allegedly discriminatory hiring.

Singapore

THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has upped the penalities for unfair hiring, even as an employer has become the first to be accused in court of making a false declaration following a probe into the company's allegedly discriminatory hiring.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced on Tuesday that employers caught practising discrimination in their recruitment of workers stand to be barred from applying for work pass renewals for their existing workers during the period of debarment. Previously, debarment mostly applied only to new applications.

In addition, these employers will not be able to apply for new work passes for at least 12 months - up from at least six. For "more egregious cases", the debarment can last for up to 24 months.

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The higher penalties apply to all work passes and can be imposed for various discriminatory hiring practices, including those on the basis of age, race, nationality and state of mental health.

Mrs Teo was speaking at the graduation of a group of workers from the Professional Conversion Programme, which prepares professionals, managers, executives and technicians, including mid-career switchers, to move into new occupations or sectors that promise better prospects and opportunities for progression.

As most work passes are valid for two to three years, a 12-month debarment will mean that discriminatory employers will find themselves unable to renew a third to half the work passes for their existing foreign workers; they will also be unable to hire new workers. A 24-month debarment will mean that the errant employer will be unable to renew all the work passes issued to his workers; neither will he be able to hire new foreign workers.

The penalties come under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) introduced in 2014 to target discrimination against Singaporeans. The FCF also requires employers to advertise on the national jobs bank MyCareersFuture.sg before submitting Employment Pass applications.

Mrs Teo said: "Most employers have adapted, and it is timely now to turn our attention to weed out the minority who still think they can treat the FCF job advertising requirement as a paper exercise."

On Tuesday, Ti2 Logistics was charged under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act for making a false declaration in an Employment (EP) Pass application. The logistics firm had lied that it had interviewed two Singaporean applicants and considered local candidates fairly for a business development manager position when it had already pre-selected an EP applicant.

Making false declarations to the Controller of Work Passes in work pass applications carries a fine of up to S$20,000 or a jail term of up to two years, or both.

Patrick Tay, the assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, wrote in a Facebook post: "I am glad to see MOM implement more robust and resolute measures to further strengthen the FCF and to level the playing field for local PMEs (professionals, managers and executives), strengthen the Singaporean core and combat against nationality discrimination. The harsher penalties will be a deterrent to would-be and recalcitrant employers/businesses."

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) also supported the MOM's move. Its executive director Koh Juan Kiat said: "It ensures that responsible employers with progressive hiring practices can continue to hire the appropriate talent to support their business growth."

Mrs Teo said there were 2,000 complaints of discrimination from 2014 to 2018. Action was taken against employers in 680 cases, with 280 of them debarred from hiring new foreign workers. About half the cases involved nationality discrimination.

She said many employers have shown a commitment to develop the local workforce, and that 570 firms had signed up for the tripartite Human Capital Partnership programme, with many having put in place programmes to develop their people. These employers hire more than 200,000 locals, or 8 per cent of the total local workforce.

The minister said: "Going by employment rates of locals - whether women or older workers - we have made big strides."

MOM will next focus on employment agencies and how they can be better regulated to ensure fair employment practices, she said.