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Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower & Senior Minister of State, National Development, to Parliamentary Question on Jobs for Singaporeans

Ms Mary Liew: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower whether the Ministry will consider extending the dependency ratio ceilings that are applied across sectors for S-Pass and work permit holders to include foreign professionals and executives on employment passes.

Ms Foo Mee Har: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower (a) if he will provide an update on the review of the employment pass framework to ensure that firms give fair consideration to Singaporeans in their hiring practices; and (b) whether the Ministry will conduct a study on the need for anti-discrimination labour laws in Singapore.

Mr Patrick Tay Teck Guan: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower whether the Ministry can provide an update on the introduction of labour market testing to give fair consideration to Singaporeans in Singapore.

Ms Foo Mee Har: To ask the Acting Minister for Manpower (a) how does the number of complaints received about Singaporeans being bypassed by foreigners for jobs or promotions in the last 12 months compare with the number received three and five years ago; (b) what are the main reasons cited for the lack of fair consideration given to Singaporean candidates in job opportunities; and (c) what further actions can the Ministry take to ensure that Singaporeans are given fair consideration for job opportunities and career progression at work.

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin:

  1. At the Committee of Supply this year, I mentioned that developing the Singaporean Core in the workforce is at the heart of our manpower policies. One important aspect of this is to shape current hiring norms by reinforcing responsible behaviour and addressing poor practices before they become entrenched. I need to provide a framework that helps to shape the correct behaviour and assure our own Singaporeans for fair consideration. I also need to make sure that it is a framework that makes sense to the majority of employers who do look to the local talent pool to fill job vacancies.
  2. Getting the balance right is critical. Why? We want to shape an economic environment that will generate good jobs and opportunities for our people. Part of that effort lies with a dynamic labour market. If we make things too onerous and rigid, or as some have argued, over-protecting our citizens, we can affect our competitiveness and attractiveness, impact businesses and may end up inadvertently hurting the job prospects of Singaporeans. Having said that, I also want to ensure that we are not too laissez-faire with our framework because we do not want to see poor hiring practices that are based on nationality or social ties. That cannot be acceptable.
  3. To better understand what might be the right balance, my Ministry has done three things. First, we visited the US, Canada, United Kingdom, Sweden and Germany and held candid discussions with government officials, businesses and labour unions to better understand the challenges of designing and implementing a fair consideration framework. Representatives from the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF), National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) also participated in these trips with us. One salient theme that emerged consistently across the various countries was that an overly onerous system could lead to unnecessary bureaucracy that affects competitiveness.
  4. Second, we have been gathering views from the public over the many months. We also conducted MOM’s Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) on Jobs earlier in June, The OSC discussions were well-attended by both concerned members of the public and employers. I heard many ideas and a diverse range of views, but there was a recurring tension which was particularly pertinent. Employers reflected that they had difficulty finding suitably qualified Singaporeans to work for them. Some employees, on the other hand, said that they were either overlooked for job opportunities or unfairly displaced due to non-meritocratic hiring practices. Therefore, it was clear that we needed to establish some norms where employers consider Singaporeans fairly for job and advancement opportunities.
  5. Third, we have also conducted a series of focus group discussions with stakeholders from various industries and as well as HR practitioners, and received email feedback from them. During these discussions, participants frequently pointed out that Singapore is the regional or global hub for many companies which create good jobs and careers for Singaporeans. However, they also need to deploy their people from other parts of the world here because they bring with them their relevant exposure and experience of other markets. There will also be those who need to better understand the Singapore and regional market. An inability to freely move their teams in and out of Singapore would certainly affect their decisions to remain or expand here. While that may well be a consideration, I do know that many companies also choose to locate in Singapore because of our systems advantages as a good place to do business. It is not any single attribute, but a combination of a stable political environment, rule of law, safe streets, good education and healthcare for families of their international staff, good infrastructure, low overall tax burden and so on. It is only fair and reasonable to expect Singaporeans to have equal and fair consideration on the job front.
  6. Any framework or measures that we roll out should be aimed at putting in place a system which would leverage on our systems advantages to help build a Singaporean core in our workforce. We want companies to improve their HR practices to ensure fair consideration for Singaporeans. However, the framework will not be a magic bullet that ensures Singaporeans are hired first for every job; it is about making sure that the playing field is level and maintaining meritocracy as a cornerstone of our society. This will send a clear signal that the government expects firms to recruit and develop their staff on merit, and not on the basis of nationality and social ties.
  7. I should also stress that our local workers must continue their upgrading efforts, so that they are in better stead to clinch the jobs they aspire to. Many of our Singaporean workers are already very capable, hardworking and have the sort of soft skills like leadership and initiative that employers are looking for. But we need even more Singaporeans to have such all-rounded skillsets - such as the ability to create, innovate and solve complex problems, communicate compellingly, while continuing to be efficient and reliable.
  8. To conclude, let me emphasise that we are aiming for a system that will make things better for Singaporeans. This has to be done by balancing the need to help businesses improve their HR practices to consider Singaporeans more consciously, and the need to maintain our openness to investment and foreigners, which ultimately builds strong companies, and generate better jobs and higher wages for our people.
  9. We are in the midst of finalising some of the possibilities and should be able to provide more details in the coming months.