One healthcare multinational the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) penalised this year rejected local job applicants for not meeting requirements that were not even stated in the job advertisement.
A probe found that it did not shortlist or interview any of the seven local candidates who met the job requirements, and deemed two candidates "overqualified".
The penalty: It will not be able to hire Employment Pass (EP) holders or renew existing ones for a year, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo.
"To stay in business, they will have to recruit more locals, something they should have done all along," she added.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Mrs Teo said discrimination against qualified local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) will be taken into account by MOM when it evaluates EP and S Pass applications.
Of all possible infringements, this offends Singaporeans the most - that they are qualified but lose out to a foreign candidate who does not appear to be better, she added.
Mrs Teo also responded to calls to reveal the names of firms on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist, made up of about 1,200 firms that MOM is scrutinising for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.
Such an approach, she said, would be counter-productive. The firms on the list have not flouted the rules but have an unusually high share of foreign PMETs compared with the rest of the industry, she added.
Until they improve, their work-pass applications will be rejected or held back, while the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices helps them hire more locals, Mrs Teo said.
Some firms improve. For instance, one firm's local office sought special approval from its overseas headquarters to expand the recruitment criteria to take into account local conditions, she said.
Another firm, which deals with high net-worth clients from a particular country - with language and cultural preferences - agreed that roles that did not require dealing directly with clients could be filled by locals.
Mrs Teo said: "If we had vilified these firms instead through a name-and-shame approach, we would have frustrated their efforts to expand local hiring. This is ultimately counter-productive.
"Our alternative approach of scrutinising and engaging employers is highly resource-intensive but, in fact, a more effective way to get businesses to reshape their HR practices."
When evaluating EP and S Pass applications, MOM will also place additional emphasis on whether the firm has supported its local PMET staff, as part of efforts to ensure fair hiring. Mrs Teo called the move a "tilt in support of local PMETs that goes beyond fair consideration".
It will also consider whether the firm has responded to government agencies' efforts to help it recruit and train local PMETs.
Mrs Teo said MOM takes all feedback from whistle-blowers seriously, and called on employers to commit to fair-hiring practices and responsible retrenchment.
She said: "No amount of enforcement resources will catch enough employers if they are determined to hide.
"What we lose then is not just a job opportunity for a local, but the trust that the system is fair, that the odds were not stacked against people who are trying."