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Oral Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower & Senior Minister of State, National Development, to Parliamentary Question on Developing Singaporean Core

Notice Paper No. 88 of 2013 For The Sitting On 5 March 2013
Question No. 1052 For Oral Answer.

MP: Mr Yeo Guat Kwang

To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower how will the Ministry ensure that the Singaporean core will not be eroded in an economic downturn or during significant downsizing of companies, especially for job areas where there are no dependency ratio ceilings for foreign PMETs.


  1. Our focus clearly is to look after the interests of all Singaporeans. In the process, we take a multi-pronged approach to build a Singaporean core in the workforce. So the critical issue really in the long-term is how do we raise the capabilities of Singaporeans and how do we calibrate our work pass framework to ensure that foreign workers complement, and just not substitute Singaporean workers. That’s important. We essentially have two broad strategies and I’ll sketch it out:
  2. Firstly, how do we develop the core of Singaporeans in our workforce? First and foremost, training in the form of Pre-Employment Training (PET) and Continuing Education and Training (CET) forms an important pillar in this process. We will continue to strengthen this, and enhance the initiatives in this framework. For example, we are strengthening the Workfare Training Support (WTS) scheme for the low-wage workers (LWWs). We also have in place the Skills Training for Excellence Programme (STEP) which is largely catered for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs).
  3. Secondly, we also develop a Singaporean core by working with agencies. For example, MAS works with the financial institutions to co-fund programmes to nurture young Singaporeans in that sector.
  4. Thirdly, we also look at developing a Singaporean core through employment facilitation. So we will strengthen Government-funded facilitation and career conversion programmes to help unemployed Singaporeans and Singaporeans who wish to change careers including PMEs where CaliberLink, which we talked about last year, was an important step in that direction.
  5. The second part in our effort lies in how we restructure our work pass and foreign manpower framework. As we are all familiar, we have put in place a series of changes in terms of the foreign worker levies (FWL) as well as changes to the Dependency Ratio Ceilings (DRCs). So changes are being made at the Work Permit, S Pass and Employment Pass levels. At the S pass and Employment Pass levels particularly will have an impact on our PMEs. And the idea really, as I have said earlier, is how do we structure such that it complements our workforce and how do we ensure that there is a level playing field? This is something that I will address fully next week at the MOM Committee of Supply (COS) debate.
  6. At the Employment Pass level, we have taken some steps last year in terms of restructuring the Employment Pass framework where we factored in not just entry-level pay, but also experience. This is important to ensure a more level playing field for Singaporeans. And we have extended these changes to the S pass framework as well.
  7. A new area that we are looking at would be to look at the way other countries implement some of their work pass frameworks for foreign talents at the Employment Pass level category. So we want to look at how to make sure that Singaporeans are given fair consideration during the hiring process. The principle of not discriminating against Singaporean workers should similarly apply in downsizing exercises.
  8. The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices requires firms to make reasonable efforts to train and develop a Singaporean core. And as mentioned during the White Paper debate on population, we are already putting in place a process where we will investigate non-compliance with the Guidelines, and if proven, we will curtail work pass privileges.
  9. The Tripartite Guidelines on Managing Excess Manpower also urge companies to consider other alternative to managing excess manpower and retrench only as a last resort. If retrenchment is still necessary after considering other options, the company concerned should carry out the retrenchment exercise responsibly. This includes consulting the relevant union and the affected workers, as well as helping the workers look for alternative jobs. In previous downturns, employers have cut back more sharply on foreign workforce as compared to the local one. Over the 2009 downturn, foreign employment levels fell while resident employment levels continued to grow, although more gradually. This same trend was seen in previous downturns in 2001 (Post September 11) and 2003 (SARS).1
  10. During the last downturn, there were also steps that we put in place to assist our workers to stay employed. The Government launched the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR) to help employers manage their manpower costs and save jobs through providing high levels of support for employers to send their local workers for training. This also helped companies to upgrade their workers during the downturn and build capabilities for the subsequent economic recovery. In addition, there is also the Jobs Credit scheme (JCS) where they received a cash grant for workers on their CPF payroll. Both SPUR and JCS, during that period, were particularly important initiatives in helping to make sure our workers at all levels stay employed.
  11. These are tools in our toolbox that we can draw on depending on the economic situation in the years to come. But the most important point to emphasise is the best way to ensure that Singaporean PMEs remain meaningfully employed is to ensure that our economy remains healthy and vibrant, and that Singaporeans are equipped with the right aptitudes and attitudes, and skills. Strengthening the Singaporean core will be one of our key focuses for our Ministry in this coming year and this is something, as mentioned earlier, we will be talking about in greater detail at the MOM Committee of Supply debate.

1 Ministry of Trade and Industry, "MTI Occasional Paper on Population and Economy", 25 Sep 2012