31 July 2014

Making a difference through the Fair Consideration Framework: Engaging firms and investigating complaints

31 July 2014

Come 1 August 2014, firms will have to advertise their job vacancies on the Workforce Development Agency’s Jobs Bank before applying for Employment Passes (EP). The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) made known this requirement as one component of the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) is part of the Singaporeans Government’s overall effort to strengthen its core in the workforce as well as to engage firms and investigate complaints. Under the Fair Consideration Framework, all firms are expected to consider Singaporeans fairly for job and development opportunities. In line with this framework, all firms are strongly encouraged to advertise their job vacancies and must ensure that jobs advertised are open to Singaporeans. Additionally, MOM and other government agencies will also identify firms that may have a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans at the Professional, Managerial and Executive (PME) level compared to others in their industry or have had repeated complaints of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices, as they may have scope to improve their hiring and career development practices. 

In the lead-up to 1 August 2014, the MOM’s Fair Consideration Department (FCD) has engaged firms across different industry sectors to better understand their HR practices and efforts to develop Singaporeans at the PME level. Other than MOM, agencies, such as the Economic Development Board (EDB), Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), also engage their stakeholders and industries on the need for the FCF and for employment practices to be fair and merit-based. Such engagements highlight the importance of building a stronger Singaporean Core in the workforce to support sustainable growth. 

We go behind-the-scenes with FCD’s director, Roslyn Ten, and case officers, Loo Leung Hua and Lee Bang Wei, to find out more about their work. 

FCF is not just about acting upon complaints

When the FCF was announced, many lauded the Government for moving in the right direction, but some remained sceptical. Some were concerned that the FCF seemed too “reactive” or “passive”. Did the FCF mean that MOM will act only if a complaint was lodged?

Director of FCD Roslyn Ten shares that in past months, her department has been engaging industries proactively to help them understand and comply with the FCF requirements, when they come into effect. FCD has also identified and engaged firms which seem to rely heavily on EP holders. Roslyn elaborates, “The spirit of the FCF is fundamentally about changing attitudes and mindsets, while addressing the manpower needs of companies. We hope to see employers making improvements in the way they hire and develop Singaporeans.”

Case officers Leung Hua and Bang Wei add that FCD does not just rely on complaints to target firms for investigations. MOM has been proactively engaging firms through an “identify-and-engage” process ahead of 1 August 2014, so that those firms have a reasonable amount of time to adjust their HR practices and utilise the Jobs Bank. This also gives them sufficient time to search for suitable Singaporean candidates to fill their job vacancies.

Fair Consideration Framework
As part of their job, FCD officers engage firms across different industry sectors to better understand their HR practices.

Engagement of Firms

Bang Wei explains that firms are proactively identified by FCD based on a number of factors, including whether the firm has a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans at the PME level as compared to industry norms. In other words, these firms may have hiring and HR practices which make them outliers in their respective industries.

Leung Hua further elaborates, “We do not presume these employers to be errant from the outset. Many firms were candid about recruiting foreign professionals because they could not find suitable Singaporean candidates, and over time, they didn’t even bother so as to minimise search costs.”

FCD will link these firms up with relevant public sector agencies so that the agencies can advise these firms how to go about their training needs, and grow a Singaporean Core in their workforce. Leung Hua cites the cases of MSG Global Solutions Asia and Optimum Solutions Singapore, which have been in discussion with IDA and have found the sessions useful. Both companies provide specialised hardware and software consultancy services and are now working with IDA on building up their local talent pools.

Investigation of Complaints

In terms of investigating complaints, FCD would tailor the process based on the case details. Sometimes, they notice online allegations about employers who discriminate against locals and hire or promote their own kind. Other times, MOM receives direct complaints from victims of alleged discrimination or third parties who are family members or friends.

Acting upon these leads, the case officers will scrutinise the firm’s HR practices, and benchmark against industry practices. By evaluating a firm’s actions in context, it allows case officers to better understand the situation, and why companies are making certain hiring choices.

Leung Hua recounts a specific case, “There was once a complainant who alleged that his former employer was replacing local employees with foreigners. And he was able to provide evidence about his termination. He even agreed to identify himself for the investigation.”

Leung Hua explains that what we read or hear may not totally reflect reality. There are always two sides to the story. He says, “After investigations, which included interviewing both parties, we found that as the firm’s business needs evolved, the complainant was unable to keep up with the training opportunities. In fact, the firm offered another Singaporean candidate the job position, but that person turned it down.” While no offence was uncovered to warrant punitive action against the employer in such cases, FCD would help complainants by linking them up with CaliberLink for employment facilitation and other employment services.

In many cases, complainants chose to remain anonymous, citing fear of unintended consequences. In some particularly small industries, no one likes to be known as a whistleblower lest prospective employers can identify them and not hire them. But keeping the complainant anonymous limits FCD’s ability to carry out in-depth investigations as officers are unable to ask specific questions related to the complaint.

Making a Difference through the Fair Consideration Framework

When asked about the highs and lows of their jobs, both Leung Hua and Bang Wei indicated that they have weathered similar experiences – they have had complainants and firm representatives raising their voices at them in the course of investigations. They shrug and accept that this is just part and parcel of their job, and that there is no intent of malice against them. In fact, they do empathise with the complainants as they may feel maligned.

For cases he handles, Leung Hua will check in with the firms to see how things have been developing. He is hopeful that the Jobs Bank, which the Government has made free to employers, will be a useful additional platform for firms to search for suitable Singaporean candidates. He reiterates that “this is ultimately about changing mindsets of employers, and it will require an involved process of engagement, understanding and follow-up action for that to happen”. This is a journey and will not take place overnight.

For Bang Wei, as he continues to investigate complaints, he hopes to see more employers giving our young graduates and PMEs a fair chance at both job and development opportunities. He appeals to the public who are aware of certain discriminatory employment practices happening at their workplace to have trust that MOM will protect their identities. He says, “What they need to realise is that by stepping forward, they might encourage others to also come forward and help in the case. It might even help prevent others from being unfairly discriminated against in future.”

Roslyn hopes that FCD’s work will eventually help to shape the HR norms in Singapore, and change mindsets and attitudes about fair hiring. She adds, “At the end of the day, it is about helping our fellow Singaporeans to have a fair chance at getting both job and career development opportunities. In FCD, each day presents a different challenge and our officers have the sense of duty, drive and dedication to make this positive difference. We hope the public will continue to place its trust in us and help us along the way by continuing to provide useful feedback about industry practices.”
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