Budget 2020: Are leaders doing enough to tackle bias hiring?

The ministry holds all key decision makers, 'the CEO, CHRO, or line managers' responsible for unfair practices

Budget 2020: Are leaders doing enough to tackle bias hiring?

Earlier this week (3 March), Singapore’s manpower minister Josephine Teo urged employers to “weed out discriminatory practices”.

During the Ministry of Manpower’s Committee of Supply 2020 speech, Teo warned employers against violating the updated Fair Consideration Framework (FCF).

She added that MOM will hold all key decision makers “culpable” for unfair hiring practices – from the CEO and CHRO to line managers.

Launched in January, the new framework ramps up efforts against employers who blatantly favour hiring foreigners over locals and treat the authority’s requirements as a “paper exercise”.

Under the updated framework, employers found guilty:

  • will not be able to renew work passes for existing employees during the period of debarment
  • will not be able to apply for new work passes for at least 12 months — up from the minimum of six months
  • the debarment period can extend to 24 months for the “most egregious cases”
  • will now be prosecuted in court and face up to two years in jail for false declarations

READ MORE: Employers risk 'stiffer penalties' for unfair hiring

During her speech, Minister Teo shared how MOM “proactively identifies” employers suspected of nationality-bias in their hiring.

MOM looks out for employers with “exceptionally high share” of foreign PMETs compared to industry peers or have high concentrations of single nationalities. These employers are put on an FCF watchlist, and all their EP applications will be scrutinised or withheld, explained Teo.

To date, over 1,000 firms have gone on the watchlist and a total of 3,000 EP applications were rejected or withheld by MOM. Some employers have also withdrawn their applications.

However, the minister added that efforts should go beyond punishment.

“Our objective is not just to penalise errant employers. We want them to improve,” Teo said. “This is why we reached out to another 350 employers whose workforce profiles give us cause for concern, so that they take steps to strengthen local hiring.

“But it also means that having served notice to these employers, MOM will not hesitate to put them on the FCF watchlist if their workforce profiles deteriorate.”

‘Against all forms of discrimination’
During her speech, she pointed out that “nationality bias is only one form of discrimination” and urged leaders to take firm action against all forms of bias.

This is why MOM this year implemented “stiffer penalties” for discrimination by age, gender, nationality or mental health condition.

READ MORE: Singapore tackles mental health discrimination

Teo said that in January 2020, MOM had penalised five errant employers under the new framework. They’ve since acted against another 18, bringing the total “sanctioned” employers to 23 in just over two months.

“In one case, a 51-year-old applying to be a receptionist was told that she was ‘too old’ when she called to enquire,” Teo said. “MOM discovered that the firm had a policy where only candidates younger than 45, female and Chinese would be invited for interview. We have acted against the employer.”

She added MOM will continue to remain vigilant against discriminatory employers and take firm action against those who try to circumvent fair hiring requirements.

“But we cannot do this alone,” she said. “Workers who come across workplace discrimination should surface it to MOM or TAFEP.

“Employers should review employment practices to weed out discriminatory practices. Employer organisations should call out members with errant practices that tarnish their sectors.”

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