Two days after unveiling new rules aimed at ensuring Singaporean professionals are fairly considered for jobs, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday rapped 10 firms for posting discriminatory job advertisements.

The 10 - including five employment agencies - were asked to put up online public apologies for 30 days, and have all done so. They have also been barred from hiring new foreign workers over the 30 days and an additional six months after.

It is the second time this year that MOM has slapped such penalties on employers for unfair hiring practices, after it first took Incofood Singapore and Expedia Singapore to task in March.

"The 10 companies could not provide valid justifications for restricting their recruitment to exclusive groups," MOM said, adding that it expects all employers doing business in Singapore to comply with the guidelines of the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) and views non-compliance seriously.

Of the 10 ads which contravened guidelines, six contained preferences for certain nationalities. One job ad for a bank treasury dealer vacancy, posted by employment agency Zingmi, read: "So let us hear from all the Singapore permanent residents from Malaysia -Truly Asia". The others showed preferences for age, gender or race.

The five employment agencies - Zingmi, Youbook, Accredit HR Consultancy, Stafflink Services and Sky Asia Consulting - may face further administrative action such as demerit points, MOM said. All employment agencies require a licence to operate in Singapore.

The five had posted ads on behalf of clients who either did not know about the ads or had not asked for the discriminatory criteria. "This highlights that employment agencies also need to appreciate the Tafep guidelines," said Koh Juan Kiat, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation.

The other five errant companies are US life sciences consultancy PSC Biotech, tuition centre Winshire Education Centre, Japanese medical cosmetics company Dr.Ci:Labo, local plastics manufacturer Modern Pak, and non-profit organisation Global Citizen Forum.

MOM has received 30 complaints about discriminatory job ads this year.

Apart from the 12 whose work-pass privileges have been curtailed, MOM found that five cases had "no discriminatory intention". These had their work-pass privileges restored after investigations wrapped up. The remaining cases are still under investigation.

Adrian Tan, president of the Singapore Professional Recruitment Organisation (SPRO), said the action MOM took against the 10 firms was more "a slap on the wrist", though the "public shaming factor" would have had greater impact.

Said Mr Tan, who is also managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting: "As recruiters, to be honest, we do face requests from clients looking for specific nationalities . . . but that is beside the point. It is for us to do the filtering and phrase the job ads with the Tafep guidelines in mind."

SPRO, previously known as the Singapore Staffing Association, represents 32 recruiters, including Stafflink Services, and has held a seminar on the guidelines that was attended by 80 agencies.

Describing MOM's moves as "calibrated", labour economist Randolph Tan, an associate professor at the Centre for Applied Research, SIM University, said: "The question of fairness really has to do with the fact that jobs creation is arguably the most important economic result any government is expected to deliver to its citizens."

Hence, apart from promoting fair and merit- based employment, the guidelines were crafted with the aim of "hiring and developing a Singaporean core" for the workforce, according to Tafep's handbook. A job ad seeking "Singaporeans only" is thus acceptable, guidelines issued yesterday state.

Also, while a phrase like "youthful working environment" is deemed unacceptable in a job ad, "older workers welcomed" is fine "because it is in support of national efforts to enhance employment opportunities for older workers", an MOM spokesman said.

"In some countries, far more severe sanctions would have been imposed . . . We have got to get to the level of international norms and the Tafep guidelines are not excessive," UniSIM's Prof Tan said.