Since rules are a standing invitation to the ability of human ingenuity to get around them, it is reassuring that employers have been served notice that they will have to abide by both the spirit and the letter of the new fair employment rules.
The injunction takes the form of a reminder that their obligation to be fair to Singaporeans will not cease once a worker has been hired.
Instead, the Ministry of Manpower's scrutiny will extend to other human resource practices as well - in promotion, retirement or retrenchment. This is an eminently reasonable reflection of the demand by Singaporeans that they be considered fairly for employment and career advancement in their own country.
Efforts to ensure that citizens compete on a level playing field for jobs and advancement should allay the fears of those sceptical of how far the Fair Consideration Framework can go in genuinely helping Singaporeans when it kicks in next year.
Firms will find it difficult to game the system by merely meeting thresholds because they will not know in advance exactly what will attract official attention. Instead, the ministry will depend on its internal thresholds in deciding when to intervene and investigate.
Sanctions against discriminatory human resource practices, which show up in organisational charts when these include data on nationality, should act as a deterrent to companies in sectors where malpractices have surfaced. It is crucial for errant employers to understand that the new framework is not a symbolic one but one that has the moral and punitive authority of the state behind it.
At the same time, Singaporean employees must bear in mind that the purpose of the new framework is to ensure that employers consider them fairly, but not exclusively, for jobs.
Bluntly put, it aims to protect them from discrimination, not competition. Since foreigners will remain indispensable in an open economy with low unemployment and labour shortages, Singaporean workers will do themselves a disservice ultimately if they look for ways to keep the competition out at the cost of driving away investors.
They should see the framework as a pragmatic way of protecting their interests and not treat it as a mechanism for seeking unfair advantages in employment and promotion over deserving foreigners.
Indeed, once hired fairly, Singaporean workers must be able to see their foreign counterparts as colleagues and not as foreigners, with all of them having a common stake in a company's success.
This attitude is but one aspect of a national mindset which views well-integrated immigrants as very much a part of the social and economic landscape, not as unwelcome aliens.
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