At the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) last week (14 Mar), Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin talked about creating fair and inclusive workplaces for Singaporeans.
|MOM Minister Tan|
He told Parliament that one important aspect is to take a firm stand against discriminatory employment practices.
Mr Tan said, “I have been tracking this, gathering feedback and looking at possible solutions. I first spoke about nationality discrimination about a year and a half ago. We started studying how other countries dealt with hiring practices. We began analysing and investigating the range of complaints that we have received.”
“And we also started adjusting our Employment Pass (EP) framework back last year in January 2012, as a first step towards level the playing field. We will do more and I will explain how we will address the concerns systematically.”
He said that generally, Singaporeans understand the need to be open to the world and the need for foreign labour at various levels. The main concern Singaporeans have is whether Singapore had enough safeguards for its people.
He broke down the frustrations of Singaporeans into three categories:
1) “hiring-their-own-kind” practices
Mr Tan said that there are anecdotes of how, in certain cases, heads of business units or HR managers have a preference for candidates they are familiar with or of the same nationality, for reasons that are irrelevant to job performance and irrespective of whether they are more competent than other candidates.
There were also situations where Singaporeans were retrenched or made to resign in the name of downsizing, only to realise later that their positions were given to foreigners, who were coincidentally from the same countries as the business heads.
Mr Tan said, “Let me be quite blunt. Would these practices not sound discriminatory? Would any respectable progressive company endorse these practices? If this hiring is indeed because they care only about choosing familiar candidates and not about hiring the best man for the job, then such practices have no place in Singapore’s workplaces. Discrimination will not and cannot be tolerated.”
However, he also acknowledged that proving discrimination is sometimes difficult.
2) Undue Haste in the Recruitment Process
In the name of efficiency or meritocracy, some managers want an employee in as fast as possible, whether Singaporean or foreign. It may therefore be more expedient for them to rely on recommendations from others or a ready stock of foreign candidates supplied by headhunters.
Mr Tan said, “One CEO we met told us that it was simply more convenient for him to mount an overseas recruitment exercise in a particular country to get all the skilled manpower he needs, than to invest in a detailed and time-consuming recruitment search for potential candidates within the local job market.”
3) Lower-cost foreign professionals substituting Singaporean PMEs
This involves qualified foreign candidates who come in at lower-level EPs, and perhaps even at S Pass, competing directly with local fresh university and diploma graduates and mid-level PMET Singaporeans.
In some cases, firms may prefer the foreign candidate following a purely merit-based assessment, as he may be as qualified but perhaps willing to work for a lower wage compared to a Singaporean. Such foreign candidates would include talented graduates from developed countries looking for better opportunities in Asia.
Mr Tan said, “Is this meritocratic? Yes. But should we just take a hands-off laissez faire attitude when faced with this situation? There is a real impact as it can deprive our young of the opportunities they need to learn on-the-job and progress to more senior positions later on. I do not think we can just ignore the situation.”
Mr Tan continued, “Before I talk about solutions, let me state clearly our guiding philosophy and thinking. In everything that we do as a Government, it must benefit our people; both for the present, and for the future.”
He said MOM will take a systemic approach (whatever it means) that will comprise structural as well as process-based adjustments to address the concerns:
a. In terms of structure, MOM will adjust the work pass frameworks. In addition to raising the minimum salary requirement for EP holders from $2,800 to $3,000, MOM also tiered the qualifying salary criteria to account for experience.
That is, if a foreigner was to come in with more experience, he would not qualify for an Employment Pass only at $3,000. It would have to be higher because his experience would be taken into account. The company will need to pay at a level which commensurates the person’s experience. The intent is to level the playing field so that more experienced foreigners do not undercut Singapore’s own PMEs.
Mr Tan added, “We have since seen the numbers at the EP level drop by about 1,600 last year. This is the first time the EP numbers have dropped since 2003. Some have been converted to S Passes instead, a number of them were clustering at about $3,000. Now, they are subject to DRC ratios and levies. This is our approach and it has worked. We will now apply the same tiering concept to the S Pass.”
“Over and above that, I will make further adjustments to the EP framework, especially to the Q1 segment later this year. We are working on the details. The purpose is to better help our junior to mid-level PMEs. I think the Q1 segment needs adjustment.”
b. In terms of process, MOM expects all employers doing business in Singapore to comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP Guidelines).
Mr Tan added, “If there are issues, MOM will step in to investigate and we will not hesitate to curtail work pass privileges. We will explore a practical process where Singaporeans are given a fair opportunity in the hiring process.”
“And we will deepen the efforts with companies to develop a local pipeline for Singaporean talents. This would be a consideration as companies are brought into Singapore. We believe in taking a systemic approach towards this issue, with a combination of structural and process adjustments.”
Source: TRE website