What draws scrutiny of a firm? MOM not saying

PHOTO: What draws scrutiny of a firm? MOM not saying

Many things could land firms under the authorities' stern gaze when new fair employment rules kick in next year. But companies will not know exactly what these are.

This is so that bosses do not think they can escape attention by just meeting thresholds, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times.

The Fair Consideration Framework, announced last month, aims to ensure a fair playing field for Singaporean workers.

One aspect is a jobs bank on which firms must advertise before hiring skilled foreigners. Another is greater scrutiny of companies that may have discriminatory human resource practices.

Firms might be subject to this if they have a low share of Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) compared to others in the industry.

How low is too low? Fielding such questions in Parliament last Monday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had said it would vary across sectors and firms. But the ministry has its "internal thresholds that will trigger us to take a look", he had added.

In response to queries, MOM said it was "unable to disclose the full suite of factors and the exact thresholds" involved.

"We do not want a firm to take a narrow view that it will not be subject to additional scrutiny and that whatever it practises is acceptable as long as it has a higher share of Singaporean PMEs above our specified threshold," said a spokesman.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at recruitment consultancy The GMP Group, thinks this decision will give the framework more bite.

"If clear thresholds were given, employers might just satisfy the minimum criteria without making any conscious effort to develop locals in the long run," he said.

But he and other experts also warned that the accompanying uncertainty could spook firms.

"Economic growth doesn't cope well with uncertainty," said Mr Serge Shine, managing director for recruitment firm Spring Professional South East Asia.

Firms which come under scrutiny will have to provide MOM with information such as organisation charts with nationality data, recruitment processes and plans to reduce reliance on foreigners.

This should not be an issue for companies as long as the data stays with MOM, said Mr Shine.

But Mr Goh noted that small and medium-sized companies without well-established HR practices could find this tough: "They may have to start from scratch."

Still, even if firms object, they cannot wriggle out of providing accurate information: It is an offence to give false information to the ministry, and those who do so may be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

MOM said it may also interview current and former employees, and firms may have to share the information declared with their own staff. "The staff can then alert MOM if there is any misrepresentation," it said.

Firms which refuse to improve their HR practices may face more requirements.

They may have to declare that when they apply for or renew a foreigner's Employment Pass, they will not displace any Singaporeans in similar roles - for two months before and afterwards.

The uncooperative will face a longer wait for passes, or even lose their right to hire such foreigners.

But Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Phillip Overmyer expects multinationals to be compliant, and keen to explain their talent needs if MOM comes knocking.

These firms seek to hire Singaporeans anyway, he noted: "MNCs want to get good people, not just cheap staff."

janiceh@sph.com.sg


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