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​News analysis; Fair hiring framework good step but could be further refined

Published on: 21-Jan-2020

The Fair Consideration Framework, which mandates that employers consider Singaporeans fairly for all job opportunities before hiring Employment Pass holders, has been given more bite.

The stiffer penalties - which include restrictions on hiring foreigners and prosecution over making false declarations - have been welcomed by experts.

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said "it is a heavy hand on those who refuse to comply, but a light touch for the majority who comply".

Just how effective will these measures be?

WHO BEARS THE BRUNT OF SANCTIONS?

The penalties curtailing the hiring of foreign workers would force errant employers to hire more expensive locals, which could lead to higher manpower costs.

But debarring firms from renewing work passes is "an indiscriminate punishment" which hurts the affected foreign workers more than employers, said Associate Professor Walter Theseira of the Singapore University of Social Sciences. This is especially for those who took loans or made other sacrifices to move to Singapore.

"These workers are not at fault for their bosses' mistakes... and we should try to minimise the fallout for third parties who are not part of the decision process," Dr Theseira said. But the likes of foreign human resources personnel who made unfair hiring decisions, such as hiring their own countrymen, should be held accountable.

DIFFERENT OFFENCE, SAME PENALTY

The same penalties apply across all forms of discriminatory hiring practices, whether in terms of nationality, age, gender or health conditions - which means "stronger deterrence against workplace discrimination of any kind", said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Tuesday.

Yet, the penalties are very much skewed towards addressing hiring discrimination against Singaporeans only.

About half of the 280 discrimination cases between 2014 and 2018 that saw the Ministry of Manpower curtail work pass privileges were nationality-related.

How would restrictions on hiring foreign workers apply in a case where an employer discriminates against an older employee, in a company that only hires Singaporeans, for instance?

Professor Ho Yew Kee of the Singapore Institute of Technology said penalties should directly address and neutralise the root causes or motivations for the different forms of unfair hiring practices.

He said the key motivation for discriminating against local workers may be because they demand higher salaries than foreign workers, and the corresponding financial penalties or curbs on hiring foreigners will hit such companies where it hurts.

Discrimination against age, race or gender, however, is more likely to do with personal biases which need to be addressed. The transgressing employers or staff could be made to attend anti-discrimination courses.

Professor Foo Maw Der of Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School suggested moving beyond penalties, saying practices such as providing mentorship for female professionals could be encouraged at firms with gender-bias practices.

WHAT IT ADDRESSES

Stiffer penalties under the Fair Consideration Framework signal the Government's intent to stamp out discrimination and weed out recalcitrant firms.

But Prof Foo noted that the updated framework does not make it harder for foreigners to be hired. "It only encourages companies to make a genuine effort to hire locals who have the required job skills."

The framework could be extended to more employment categories, he suggested.

Dr Gillian Koh, deputy director of research at the Institute of Policy Studies, said that while the Government has its force of policy, laws, enforcement and penalties, businesses have to play their part in practising fair consideration."It is important... to keep raising awareness and consciousness, to set the right tone and value system that we want," she said.


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