Singapore residents share concerns over job competition with foreigners despite assurances from Govt

Associate Professor Jamus Lim who is the Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Sengkang GRC posted a message on his Facebook page today (23 Sep 2022).

In his post, he mentioned that during his weekly house visit, he came across a resident who showed concerns over the new One Pass scheme announced by Singapore Manpower Minister Dr Tan See Leng recently.

“This week’s house visits brought #TeamSengkang to 355A, where we had so many long, sobering conversations that we only made our way through a third of the block,” Assoc Prof Lim said. “With so many Singaporeans returning to the workplace, many conversations revolved around the labor market, and in particular, the place of foreign talent relative to our domestic workforce.”

In particular, Assoc Prof Lim mentioned that one resident had shared with him his concerns over the One Pass scheme. The resident returned back to Singapore after a long stint in China, and has been having difficulties finding a job here, despite his extensive experience and solid skill set.

“He expressed his concern that ONEPass—despite its high qualification bar—would ultimately end up exacerbating the difficulties locals faced in advancing to the upper tiers of the corporate hierarchy, thereby relegating them to being trapped in middle management.”

This fear was further corroborated by the impression that many foreign nationals working here tended to favor their own countrymen, further alienating Singaporean job seekers, Assoc Prof Lim added.

“Unlike nativist sentiments that are now commonplace in many countries, these Singaporeans were not instinctively anti-foreigner,” Assoc Prof Lim stressed.

“Rather, it was the gnawing sense of feeling like Singaporeans are disadvantaged in their own country. As someone who has felt that sense of discrimination as I competed with others as an expat abroad, it breaks my heart to hear that there are many workers that feel the same way, right at home.”

In the Ministerial Statement delivered by Dr Tan on 12 September, four targeted enhancements to Singapore’s work pass framework were announced.

  1. A new Overseas Networks & Expertise Pass (ONE Pass) for talent earning at least $30,000 in fixed monthly salary, comparable to the top 5% of Employment Pass (EP) holders or with outstanding achievements in arts and culture, sports and research and academia.
  2. A new benchmark pegged to the top 10% of EP holders for existing schemes, namely, the exemption from the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) job advertising requirement and Complementarity Assessment framework (COMPASS) as well as salary criterion for the Personalized Employment Pass (PEP ).
  3. Restoring the FCF job advertising duration from 28 days to 14 days with effect from 1 September 2022 and improving the processing time of EP applications.
  4. The option of a five-year EP to experienced professionals filling tech occupations on the COMPASS Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

In that Parliamentary sitting, People’s Action Party’s MP for Bukit Panjang SMC, Mr Liang Eng Hwa had asked if reductions in the job advertisement period reduces the impetus for employers to hire local PMETs, especially those in the more mature age groups.

Mr Liang had pointed out that Singapore does have a significant pool of mature PMET talents – those who may be between the ages of 50s and 60s. And that it should do more to help improve their employment opportunities as “there is still a very sticky bias against this group of PMETs”.

In response, Dr Tan said that Singapore has very high job vacancies compared to jobseekers today. He said, “As of end-March 2022, it was about 2.4. I think if we look at it, moving forward, it will continue to rise”.

“To the group of PMEs in the 50s and 60s, we have also offered significant support measures to ensure that they continue to stay incentivized and enfranchised to continue to work.” shared by Dr. Tan.

He went on to also state that the Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong is launching Forward SG which in its key pillars has its focus on Singaporeans.

Does the Singapore government understand the extent of possible discrimination against Singaporean workers and the effectiveness of FCF?

At the same sitting, Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis, WP MP for Sengkang GRC asked if MOM has any statistical data to show that the FCF is actually achieving its stated purpose and that companies are not just going through the motions of putting up their advertisements.

“For example, such as the number of interviews being granted or the number of applicants that actually end up being hired through these advertisements.” asked Mr. Chua.

Under FCF, employers submitting Employment Pass and S Pass applications must first advertise on MyCareersFuture and fairly consider all candidates. This is said to promote fair employment practices and improve labor market transparency.

In response, Dr Tan said that he had earlier shared that about 70% of the responses to the FCF advertisement happen within the first two weeks. After that, it then straddles along.

“And many companies have given feedback that they are really finding it very difficult to hire and if they wait for the period of time, for the 28-day advertising duration, they will lose the particular person that they want to hire and it compromises the operations of the business.” said Dr Tan.

While Dr. Tan emphasized that MOM will not hesitate to take action if companies discriminate against locals or if they discriminate against anyone in terms of characteristics, he did not provide the figures that Mr Chua had asked for.

In a 2019 written response by then-Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, she states: “MyCareersFuture.sg contributes to these placement results. Neither employers nor jobseekers are obliged to inform WSG of the outcomes of their job postings or searches. “

So if the government is not privy as to what the results are when companies list their jobs on the job portal to fulfill the requirement under FCF, then how is it possible for it to declare that there is no discrimination of employers against local employees with some — as Mr Chua raised in his supplementary question to Dr Tan — going through the motion of listing the jobs on the job portal?

Furthermore, it is said that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) received an average of 379 workplace discrimination complaints each year between 2014 and the first half of 2021. Bulk of the complaints — 233 out of 379 — are attributed as discrimination by “nationality”.

It is puzzling how the government talks about the effectiveness of its schemes when it cannot get the information or asks for it from the companies. Not to mention how it interprets the figures it has on its hand.

Companies continue to recruit foreigners for higher level positions

As far back as 2013, then DPM and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam told Parliament:

“Nurturing a Singaporean core is important not just for GIC and Temasek, but to our enterprises and financial institutions based here. Deliberate efforts have to be put in succession planning and talent development to give Singaporeans opportunities and exposure to nurture their skills, build up experience locally and beyond, so that they can take on larger responsibilities in time to come.”

Nine years later, the government continues to issue work passes, allowing companies to recruit foreigners for their top positions, thereby “robbing” Singaporeans the opportunities to take on larger roles.

Where is the will to develop a “Singaporean core”, one might ask.

Take for instance, according to a HR news from eFinancialCareers last Nov, StanChart has appointed some foreigners to top positions inside the bank (‘Stan Chart appoints new Singapore MD in year-end hiring spree’, 26 Nov 2021).

It said that StanChart has “made another big hire” into its Singapore technology team. Mr Craig Corte was appointed as the managing director and head of digital platforms and innovation while Mr Brendan Royal was appointed as its Singapore-based global chief architect. Mr Corte is from Canada while Mr Royal is from Australia.

“The hires of Corte and Royal from Canada and Australia, respectively, suggest that banks in Singapore are still able to take on foreign tech professionals for senior leadership roles, despite the overall decline in the issuance of Employment Passes since the onset of Covid-19 ,” eFinancialCareers reported.

Regardless if these positions pay more than $30,000 or not, the question Singaporeans should be asking is –

  • “Does StanChart have any succession planning or talent development to give Singaporeans more opportunities and exposure to nurture their skills?”
  • “Does StanChart listen to Mr Tharman’s call for its Singaporean staff to build up experience locally and beyond, so that they can take on larger responsibilities?”

One might also ask, to what extent does StanChart’s hiring practices represent the companies at large in Singapore.

Leave a Comment