WASHINGTON - United States President Donald Trump's re-election campaign on Thursday (Aug 6) lost its bid to add a fourth debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden in early September.
In rejecting the request, the Commission on Presidential Debates said it remains committed to the current schedule of three 90-minute debates, beginning in late September.
It would add a fourth debate, or move an existing debate to earlier in the month, only if both sides in the campaign for the Nov 3 election agree to it, it said.
Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had asked for either a fourth debate in the first week of September or for the first debate to be moved up from Sept 29 because voters in some states would already be able to cast votes before then.
The commission said voters will have a choice whether to watch a debate before casting a ballot, adding voters "are under no compulsion to return their ballots before the debates". Mr Trump, a Republican, is trailing Mr Biden in most national opinion polls.
The battleground state of North Carolina is scheduled to begin sending out mail-in ballots to registered voters who requested them on Sept 4, with several other states to follow in September.
A massive surge in mail-in voting is expected because of fears the coronavirus may spread at public polling places.
In a response to the commission, Mr Giuliani said the campaign was "disappointed" by the rejection and still believed Americans deserve to see the candidates "compare their records and visions for the United States before actual voting begins".
The Biden campaign said it was pleased Mr Trump had accepted the commission invitation to debate.
"As we have said for months, the commission will determine the dates and times of the debates, and Joe Biden will be there," Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said.
The commission has organised three debates and one vice-presidential debate during each presidential campaign since 2000.
The presidential debates are set for Sept 29 in Ohio, Oct 15 in Florida and Oct 22 in Tennessee.
WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Aug 7) unveiled sweeping bans on US transactions with China’s ByteDance, owner of video-sharing app TikTok, and Tencent, operator of messenger app WeChat, in a major escalation of tensions with Beijing.
The executive orders, which go into effect in 45 days, come after the Trump administration said this week it was stepping up efforts to purge “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks and called TikTok and WeChat “significant threats.”
The hugely popular Tiktok has come under fire from US lawmakers and the administration over national security concerns surrounding data collection, amid growing distrust between Washington and Beijing.
On Wednesday (Aug 5), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded efforts on a program dubbed “Clean Network” to prevent various Chinese apps as well as Chinese telecoms firms from accessing sensitive information on U.S. citizens and businesses.
James Lewis, a technology expert with Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the orders appeared coordinated with Pompeo’s announcement. “This is the rupture in the digital world between the US and China,” he said. “Absolutely, China will retaliate.”
“On TikTok, Trump is clearly putting pressure on Bytedance to close the deal,” Lewis said.
TikTok has 100 million users in the United States. While WeChat is not popular in the country, the app, which has over 1 billion users, is ubiquitous in China. It is also widely used by expat Chinese as a main platform for communications with family and friends as well as a medium for various other services such as games and e-commerce.
WeChat and TikTok were among 59 mostly Chinese apps outlawed in India in June for threatening the country’s “sovereignty and integrity".
Operator Tencent is China’s second most-valuable company after Alibaba at US$686 billion (S$939.4 billion). It is also China’s biggest video game company and earlier this summer opened California-based studio.
Tencent's shares fell nearly 10 per cent in Hong Kong after Trump’s order. The yuan, which is sensitive to Sino-US relations, lost 0.4 per cent. Tencent and ByteDance declined to comment.
Trump issued the orders under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that grants the administration sweeping power to bar US firms or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with sanctioned parties.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will identify transactions covered by the prohibition after the orders take effect in mid-September.
The development comes soon after the US ordered China to vacate its consulate in Houston, Texas, followed by China’s order requiring the United States to vacate its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
But tension has been simmering between the two powers for months, with the United States taking issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong.
Trump said this week he would support the sale of TikTok’s U.S. operations to Microsoft Corp if the US government got a “substantial portion” of the sales price. He nevertheless said he will ban the service in the United States on Sept 15, though some Republicans have raised concerns about the political fallout of banning the popular app.
The app may be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party, and the United States “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security,” Trump said in one order.
In the other, Trump said WeChat “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”
The order would effectively ban WeChat in the United States in 45 days by barring “to the extent permitted under applicable law, any transaction that is related to WeChat by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd.”
Late on Thursday, some China watchers in Washington were already questioning the logic behind the orders.
The order “calls TikTok a national security threat,” said Derek Scissors, an expert on Sino-US economic relations at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. “Either we’ve missed the threat for three years or it just became one and yet we are waiting 45 days.”
SINGAPORE - A man was charged on Friday (Aug 7) with possessing and importing 158 airsoft handguns without a licence.
Liu Huijian, 40, was also charged with one count of possessing a replica gun without a permit.
Police said on Friday that they received information on Nov 16, 2018 on the sale of replica toy guns, that shoot gel beads as projectiles, on an e-commerce platform.
Following ground inquiries, officers from the Ang Mo Kio Police Division established the seller's identity and arrested the Singaporean man on the same day.
More than 150 airsoft handguns and accessories were seized.
On Friday, bail was set at $15,000, and a pre-trial conference will be held on Sept 4.
Airsoft guns or any other guns that shoot pellets using compressed gas are considered arms under the Arms & Explosives Act.
No one is allowed to possess or control any such arms without a licence.
Those convicted of possessing or having under their control any gun without a licence face a fine of up to $5,000 per gun and up to three years in jail.
It is also an offence for anyone to import or export any arms or explosives or any parts of arms or explosives without a licence.
Offenders face a fine of up to $10,000 and jail of up to three years.
Importing or exporting any replica guns without a permit is also illegal.
First-time offenders face a fine of up to $100,000 or three times the value of the goods, whichever is greater, jail of up to two years, or both.
New box shields protect healthcare staff performing aerosol-generating procedures on Covid-19 patients
SINGAPORE - A hospital has come up with new box shields that offer added protection for healthcare workers performing high-risk aerosol-generating procedures on critically ill patients, including Covid-19 cases.
The box shields will also help patients in life-threatening emergencies in the intensive care unit (ICU), with first responders able to use one to immediately provide oxygen therapy for them.
The three different shields, called bio-aerosol containment units (BCU), are detachable and can be fixed onto intensive care unit (ICU) and transfer beds, unlike existing ones that are placed over patients who are reclined flat on the bed. This means that the devices can be used while patients are propped up on the bed.
When performing aerosol-generating procedures on ICU patients, healthcare workers have to don a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), a battery-powered air purifying mask, which can take three to five minutes to put on.
During emergencies in the ICU, the first responder can provide oxygen therapy for patients through the box shield, while the rest of the medical team don the PAPR.
The three box shields were designed by a medical team from Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) in collaboration with Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Robotics Research and Innovation Centre. Work on the shields started in March this year.
"Unlike many of the currently seen box shields, we have designed a bigger and custom-made isolation chamber to easily retrofit our ICU and transfer beds," said Dr Tan Chee Keat, head and senior consultant of intensive care medicine, who led the project.
The team of eight from NTFGH comprised staff from intensive care and emergency medicine, and respiratory therapists and anaesthesiologists.
On top of intubation and extubation that can induce coughing, other medical procedures that can put healthcare workers at risk include nebulisation, where patients inhale medication in mist form through a mouthpiece, and high flow nasal cannula, where warmed oxygen is rapidly delivered to patients.
The box shields are of different sizes and are used in different settings - one for ICU beds, one for patient transfer and one for intubation.
The one for ICU beds, called the treatment BCU, has the same width as an ICU bed at 92cm, and can incline safely up to 60 degrees with the bed, allowing patients to be propped up as they receive treatment. This 11kg shield is also the largest, with a length of 60cm and a height of 70cm, which can contain intubation equipment.
The transport BCU, attached to transfer beds, can be used for Covid-19 patients who are wheeled to different facilities in the hospital. Since the patients may be coughing or are on non-invasive ventilation, this box shield can prevent environmental contamination.
The intubation BCU is similar to the treatment BCU, but smaller, at 50cm by 68cm at its base, and 60cm high.
The shields are 4mm thick and weigh between 6.7kg and 11kg.
The team believes that the detachable and purpose-built qualities of the box shields make them a first-of-their-kind.
The two openings at the head end of the shield box are used for medical procedures, and the openings at the sides are for serving water and medicine to patients, said Dr Tan.
Similar to other existing shields, the BCUs can be connected to a vacuum that sucks contaminated air from inside the box.
In June this year, researchers from the National University of Singapore invented a similar device called the droplet- and aerosol-reducing tent that is foldable, but smaller than the BCUs and cannot be fixed to beds.
SINGAPORE - About 6,000 lower-income households whose public financial assistance is ending will now have peace of mind as their support will be automatically extended for another six months.
Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said in a Facebook post on Friday (Aug 7) that his ministry is automatically extending the ComCare assistance for existing beneficiaries whose aid would have ended between August and October 2020.
"They would not have to come to our Social Service Office to renew the assistance. However, if their circumstances have changed and they need more help, they can still approach our officers," he added.
This automatic six-month extension was also done several months ago for about 6,000 households whose ComCare assistance ended between May and July.
"Some of our ComCare beneficiaries tell us this extension gives them some peace of mind as they work to uplift themselves and their families," said Mr Masagos.
"The effects of Covid-19 will still be felt for some time to come. This health and economic crisis has especially affected the lower-income and vulnerable members of our society. But I would like to assure Singaporeans that help will continue to be available to them," he said.
Madam Thanaletchimi Karappiah, 57, who lives with her husband, 63, in a one-room rental flat in Jurong East, is a beneficiary whose household’s ComCare assistance was automatically extended earlier this year.
She said the extension was a relief for her family. She has been receiving $900 a month under the Short-to-Medium Term Assistance scheme from August to October 2019, and since February this year.
Her husband, who has diabetes and other health issues, has not worked since 2016, while Madam Thanaletchimi has been having severe back pains since last year, resulting in her having to stop her work as a cleaner in December. She is medically certified as unfit to work till October.
The $900 goes a long way for the couple, said Madam Thanaletchimi, who added that they have been receiving free food from Lakeside Family Services during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has helped ease the financial burden.
“I also have to spend the money on bus fare when I go to take care of my daughter and granddaughter who live in Boon Lay,” she added. Her daughter, 42, is a single mum to a 16-year-old.
The Straits Times previously reported that amid the coronavirus pandemic, more Singaporeans and permanent residents had been on government financial aid in March and April this year, compared with the same period last year.
Applications approved for the ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance and ComCare Long-Term Assistance schemes increased significantly, figures from the Ministry of Social and Family Development showed.
In March, there were 4,754 approved applications for the schemes, up 18 per cent from March last year.
In April, the number of approved applications rose to 5,020, a 33 per cent increase over April last year.
WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Intelligence agencies in the United States are scrutinising efforts by Saudi Arabia to build up its ability to produce nuclear fuel that could put the kingdom on a path to developing nuclear weapons.
Spy agencies in recent weeks circulated a classified analysis about the efforts underway inside Saudi Arabia - working with China - to build industrial capacity to produce nuclear fuel. The analysis has raised alarms that there might be secret Saudi-Chinese efforts to process raw uranium into a form that could later be enriched into weapons fuel, according to US officials.
As part of the study, they have identified a newly completed structure near a solar-panel production area near Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that some government analysts and outside experts suspect could be one of a number of undeclared nuclear sites.
US officials said that the Saudi efforts were still in an early stage, and that intelligence analysts had yet to draw firm conclusions about some of the sites under scrutiny. Even if the kingdom has decided to pursue a military nuclear programme, they said, it would be years before it could have the ability to produce a single nuclear warhead.
Saudi officials have made no secret of their determination to keep pace with Iran, which has accelerated since US President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal with Teheran. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged in 2018 that his kingdom would try to develop or acquire nuclear weapons if Iran continued its work towards a bomb.
Last week, the House Intelligence Committee included a provision in the intelligence budget authorisation bill requiring the administration to submit a report about Saudi efforts since 2015 to develop a nuclear programme. It was a clear indication that the committee suspects that some undeclared nuclear activity is going on.
The report, the provision stated, should include an assessment of "the state of nuclear cooperation between Saudi Arabia and any other country other than the United States, such as the People's Republic of China or the Russian Federation".
An article in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday (Aug 4) said that Western officials were concerned about a different facility in Saudi Arabia, in the country's northwest desert. The Journal said it was part of a programme with the Chinese to extract uranium yellowcake from uranium ore. That is a necessary first step in the process of obtaining uranium for later enrichment, either for use in a civilian nuclear reactor or, enriched to much higher levels, a nuclear weapon.
Saudi Arabia and China have publicly announced a number of joint nuclear projects in the kingdom, including one to extract uranium from seawater, with the stated goal of helping the world's largest oil producer develop a nuclear energy programme or become a uranium exporter.
Intelligence officials have searched for decades for evidence that the Saudis are seeking to become a nuclear weapons power, fearful that any such move could result in a broader, destabilising nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
So far, Israel is the only nuclear weapons state in the region, a status it has never officially confirmed.
In the 1990s, the Saudis helped bankroll Pakistan's successful effort to produce a bomb. But it has never been clear whether Riyadh has a claim on a Pakistani weapon, or its technology. And 75 years after the detonation of the first nuclear weapon used in war - today is the anniversary of the Hiroshima blast - only nine nations possess nuclear weapons.
But ever since the debacle of the Iraq invasion in 2003, based on faulty assessments that Saddam Hussein was restarting the country's once-robust nuclear programme, intelligence agencies have been far more reluctant to warn of nuclear progress for fear of repeating a colossal mistake.
At the White House, Trump administration officials seem relatively unperturbed by the Saudi effort. They say that until the Iranian nuclear programme is permanently terminated, the Saudis will most likely keep the option open to produce their own fuel, leaving open a pathway to a weapon.
But now the administration is in the uncomfortable position of declaring it could not tolerate any nuclear production ability in Iran, while seeming to remain silent about its close allies, the Saudis, for whom it has forgiven human rights abuses and military adventurism.
President Trump and his top aides have built close ties to the Saudi leadership, playing down the killing of the journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi and enlisting the crown prince in so-far fruitless Middle East peace efforts.
It also comes at a time when the Trump administration is aggressively taking on China on numerous fronts, like its handling of the novel coronavirus and its efforts to crack down on freedoms in Hong Kong. So far, the White House has said nothing about China's array of nuclear deals with the Saudis.
Spokesmen for the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Late Wednesday, the US State Department said in a statement to The New York Times that while it would not comment on intelligence findings, "we routinely warn all our partners about the dangers of engagement with the PRC's civil nuclear business", referring to the People's Republic of China, "including the threats it presents of strategic manipulation and coercion, as well as technology theft. We strongly encourage all partners to work only with trusted suppliers who have strong nonproliferation standards".
The statement also said that "we oppose the spread of enrichment and reprocessing", and that the US would "attach great importance" to continued compliance by the Saudis to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It urged Saudi Arabia to conclude an agreement with the US "with strong nonproliferation protections that will enable Saudi and US nuclear industries to cooperate".
Saudi Arabia's work with the Chinese suggests that the Saudis may have now given up on the US and turned to China instead to begin building the multibillion-dollar infrastructure needed to produce nuclear fuel. China has traditionally not insisted on such strict non-proliferation safeguards, and is eager to lock in Saudi oil supplies.
Regional experts say that part of the Saudi calculation stems from the view that the kingdom can no longer count on America's willingness to counter Iran.
That view gained more currency in the kingdom after the Obama administration signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, known as the JCPOA. It forced Iran to give up 97 per cent of its fuel stockpile, but left open a path to production in the future.
"They believe that as a result of the JCPOA they can't rely on anyone reining in the Iranians, and they are going to have to deter Iran themselves," said Mr Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a former CIA officer and director of intelligence and counterintelligence at the Energy Department.
The irony, Mr Mowatt-Larssen said, is that Saudi Arabia has sought both civilian nuclear partnerships and defence agreements with two powers - Russia and China - that have deep economic ties to Iran.
BEIRUT - In Beirut's beloved bar districts, hundreds of young Lebanese ditched beers for brooms on Wednesday (Aug 5) to sweep debris in the absence of a state-sponsored cleanup operation following a deadly blast.
"What state?" scoffed 42-year-old Melissa Fadlallah, a volunteer cleaning up the hard-hit Mar Mikhail district of the Lebanese capital.
The explosion, which hit just a few hundred metres away at Beirut's port, blew all the windows and doors off Mar Mikhail's pubs, restaurants and apartment homes on Tuesday.
By Wednesday, a spontaneous cleanup operation was underway there, a glimmer of youthful solidarity and hope after a devastating night.
Wearing plastic gloves and a mask, Fadlallah tossed a shard of glass as long as her arm at the door of the state electricity company's administrative building that looms over the district.
"For me, this state is a dump - and on behalf of yesterday's victims, the dump that killed them is going to stay a dump," she told reporters.
The blast killed more than 110 people, wounded thousands and compounded public anger that erupted in protests last year against a government seen as corrupt and inefficient.
"We're trying to fix this country. We've been trying to fix it for nine months but now we're going to do it our way," said Fadlallah.
"If we had a real state, it would have been in the street since last night cleaning and working. Where are they?"
'EVEN A SMILE HELPS'
A few civil defence workers could be seen examining building structures but they were vastly outnumbered by young volunteers flooding the streets to help.
In small groups, they energetically swept up glass beneath blown-out buildings, dragging them into plastic bags.
Others clambered up debris-strewn stairwells to offer their homes to residents who had spent the previous night in the open air.
"We're sending people into the damaged homes of the elderly and handicapped to help them find a home for tonight," said Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer.
"We don't have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands," he said.
Towns across the country have offered to host Beirut families with damaged homes and the Maronite Catholic patriarchate announced it would open its monasteries and religious schools to those needing shelter.
Food was quickly taken care of, too: plastic tables loaded with donated water bottles, sandwiches and snacks were set up within hours.
"I can't help by carrying things, so we brought food, water, chocolate and moral support," said Rita Ferzli, 26.
"I think everyone should be here helping, especially young people. No one should be sitting at home - even a smile is helping right now."
'THIS IS IT'
Business owners swiftly took to social media, posting offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free.
Abdo Amer, who owns window company Curtain Glass, said he was moved to make such an offer after narrowly surviving the blast.
"I had driven by the port just three minutes earlier," the 37-year-old said.
He offered to replace windows for half the price, but said he was fixing some for free given the devastating situation for many families following the Lebanese currency's staggering devaluation in recent months.
"I've gotten more than 7,000 phone calls today and I can't keep up," said the father of four.
"You think the state will take up this work? Actually, let them step down and leave."
Outrage at the government was palpable among volunteers, many of whom blamed government officials for failing to remove explosive materials left at the port for years.
"They're all sitting in their chairs in the AC while people are wearing themselves out in the street," said Mohammad Suyur, 30, as he helped sweep on Wednesday.
"The last thing in the world they care about is this country and the people who live in it."
He said activists were preparing to reignite the protest movement that launched in October.
"We can't bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go," he said.
The latest watch list of businesses exhibiting discriminatory hiring shows a wealth management firm had a workforce in which almost three quarters of its PMETs were from the same nationality.
Others had foreigners comprising more than half of their pool of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), much more than their industry peers.
In addition, 30 of the 47 employers newly placed on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watch list are from the financial service and professional service sectors.
This brings the total from these two sectors, put on the watch list since 2016, to 190.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) said yesterday that in engaging these employers, the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) found they were often not familiar with the skill set of local job seekers as well as the Government's support measures to reskill and upskill local workers.
For example, some firms claimed they were unable to find local workers with the required expertise or experience, including for more technical roles such as senior software engineers and UX designers. The fact is they had not cast their net wide enough, such as by tapping Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs), the ministry noted.
Other employers assumed that local workers lacked the global exposure necessary to function effectively across the multiple countries that they operate in, as some roles, such as portfolio manager or product manager, require market-specific knowledge, it said.
It added that through Tafep's intervention, most employers reviewed their hiring practices to give local job seekers a fair chance.
"They adjusted their hiring process to actively expand their search networks to reach out to more local candidates and tapped Workforce Singapore and NTUC-e2i's services, as well as programmes for training and upskilling such as free workshops for emerging technologies.
"As a result, these employers found that they were able to hire local employees to meet their manpower needs, and now have in place a more sustainable recruitment and development strategy to drive their growth in Singapore.
"The employers also participated in internship and management trainee programmes to build and develop the local talent pool."
More than 100 employers from these two sectors have been taken off the watch list after demonstrating a strong commitment to improve their hiring practices.
The ministry yesterday urged all employers to adopt exemplary employment practices, by tapping the various government schemes to develop a strong Singaporean core.
It said that to build the local talent pool in the financial service and professional service sectors, the Government has a range of programmes, such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore's training schemes; the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore's Technology in Finance Immersion Programme; and Workforce Singapore's PCPs for the professional service sector.
It urged people to report specific instances of discriminatory behaviour on Tafep's website.
Employers who breach fair hiring requirements will be barred from hiring foreign workers or renewing their passes for up to two years, and may face prosecution, if they made false declarations on fair consideration.
SINGAPORE - Another 47 employers have been placed on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.
They will have their Employment Pass (EP) applications closely scrutinised, and those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.
The 47 are on top of 1,200 employers previously put on the watch list, said the Manpower Ministry (MOM) in a statement on Wednesday (Aug 5).
Of the 47, 30 are in the financial services and professional services sectors, and the rest are in administrative and support services, manufacturing and education.
They comprise both large and small companies, with the largest employing almost 2,000 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
Among them are banks and fund managers, as well as management consulting firms and firms providing project management and engineering services.
"While these firms were supporting local PMET employment, their workforce profiles raise concerns when compared to industry peers," said the MOM, explaining that they were put on the watch list because of their exceptionally high shares of foreign PMETs compared with their industry peers.
For example, 18 firms have foreigners comprising more than half of their PMET workforce. In addition, 30 employers from the financial and professional services sectors have a high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities.
"We will subject their hiring to closer scrutiny to ensure that there is no nationality bias against locals, which is unacceptable and not in line with fair, merit-based hiring," said the ministry.
The move follows Manpower Minister Josephine Teo's Facebook post on Monday, when she said, among other issues, that there would be updates to the framework to ensure fairness for workers.
She announced in January that employers would face stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring practices, and could be prosecuted in court if they make false declarations on fair hiring consideration.
Under the updated framework, employers found guilty of workplace discrimination will not be able to renew the work passes of existing employees during the period of debarment. In the past, debarment applied largely to new work pass applications.
Errant employers also cannot apply for new work passes for at least 12 months - up from the previous minimum of six months. The debarment period can extend to 24 months for the most egregious cases.
The FCF was introduced in August 2014 after Singaporeans voiced unhappiness about foreigners taking away good-paying PMET jobs from locals.
The MOM said on Wednesday that of the 190 employers from the financial and professional services sectors put on the watch list since 2016, more than 100 have been taken off after showing a strong commitment to improve their hiring practices.
It added that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep), in its initial engagement with these employers, found they were often not familiar with the skillset of local job seekers and the Government's support measures to help locals reskill and upskill.
For example, the ministry said, some firms claimed they were not able to find local workers with the required expertise or experience, including for more technical roles such as senior software engineers and UX designers.
But the fact is they had not cast their net wide enough, like tapping Professional Conversion Programmes, it noted.
They then adjusted their hiring process to actively reach out to more local candidates and tap Workforce Singapore and NTUC-e2i's services, as well as programmes for training and upskilling, like free workshops for emerging technologies.
"As a result, these employers found they were able to hire local employees to meet their manpower needs, and they now have in place a more sustainable recruitment and development strategy to drive their growth in Singapore," said the ministry.
It also said that in these challenging times, "we will be extra vigilant against unfair hiring, to ensure that local job seekers are treated fairly".
The ministry urged people to report specific instances of discriminatory behaviour for investigation at this website.
The identity of whistle-blowers will be kept confidential, it added.
SINGAPORE - The ongoing pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital consumption in South-east Asia, so much that the current slew of online shoppers may soon hit numbers experts had said would only be reached in 2025.
According to a study by Facebook and consulting firm Bain & Company released on Thursday (Aug 6), the number of South-east Asian digital consumers - those who purchase goods or services online - is expected to reach 310 million by the end of this year.
The same companies had in a report last year forecasted that number for 2025.
Ms Sandhya Devanathan, Facebook's managing director of gaming for Asia-Pacific, said: "With five years of digital acceleration condensed into one, the impact of digital adoption on businesses has never been more apparent.
"A lot of what has happened has been helped by the unfortunate pandemic, but there has been an exponential growth in the region nonetheless."
The move to shop online had been spurred greatly by the increasing need for people to stay at home to work, study, play, and carry out essential tasks to stem the transmission of Covid-19, the study found.
The report, which was released on Facebook, said: "Social distancing has paved the way to the home-centric lifestyles as well as commerce with minimal physical contact.
"For many businesses, the only way to secure their future was to establish a robust digital presence."
Mr Praneeth Yendamuri, partner at Bain & Company, said: "2020 has truly been a year of accelerated change."
Conducted online in May, the latest iteration of the study involved a survey of 16,491 respondents alongside interviews with over 20 company executives from various industries across six South-east Asian nations - Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The study found that South-east Asian consumers were shopping online across more categories, whether it was for clothing, toys, groceries or household appliances, among others.
Last year, each South-east Asian consumers went online to purchase items from an average of 3.7 categories.
This year, the number of categories grew to 5.1, an increase of 40 per cent.
Most notably, the pandemic had spurred shoppers to go online for groceries more than ever before.
Prior to the pandemic, this category had the least online retail penetration, but the report showed that around 43 per cent of digital consumers said that they bought groceries online this year.
The growth in average spent per online transaction in the category had also doubled that of last year's figure.