Onus on workers to prove hunger for jobs

Onus on workers to prove hunger for jobs

One strand of public unhappiness over foreign labour policy has been the idea that some bosses simply prefer foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) to Singaporean ones.

The Government is moving to tackle this, by obliging employers to give local candidates fair consideration. But a disquieting question arises: what happens if Singaporeans aren't good enough to win a fair fight?

Plans to make firms give Singaporeans a fair chance were mentioned in this year's Budget debate, and came up again at an Our Singapore Conversation session last Saturday. Participants were asked their views on measures such as having to state why a foreigner is required for the post, or having to show that no local candidate can be found.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said the Government was looking at adjustments to "add in some level of process" in hiring.

Meanwhile, the Government is also looking to raise the minimum threshold for Employment Pass salaries, which should ensure that local and foreign PMEs compete on quality rather than price.

A commentary by managing editor Han Fook Kwang last Sunday, however, raised the point that firms might have good reason to prefer foreign candidates as workers here might lack hunger and skills.

Of course, this is not an argument against the upcoming measures. Firms should indeed have to make unbiased assessments of Singaporean candidates, rather than dismiss them as inferior. But if firms give Singaporeans a fair chance yet still find them lacking - what then?

There is an arguable obligation for any Government to ensure good job opportunities for citizens, and place limits on competition from foreign jobseekers. But as Mr Tan pointed out, this cannot extend to pure labour market protectionism.

On Saturday last week, he cautioned that levelling the playing field should not mean jeopardising the economy's openness and dynamism.

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