Unions, employers back employment move but some worry about impact
By Janice Heng And Toh Yong Chuan
But some industry groups had worries, such as that Singapore's competitive edge may suffer if foreigners feel unwelcome.
Get the full story from The Straits Times.
SINGAPORE - Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) can soon expect fairer hiring opportunities.
From August next year, firms must put out advertisements for job vacancies on a new online national job bank before they make a new Employment Pass (EP) application. Job advertisements must be open to Singaporeans.
Failure to do so results in the companies' EP applications for their foreign hires being rejected.
This is part of the new Fair Consideration Framework announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday, which is aimed at ensuring that employers give Singaporeans due consideration for job opportunities.
Under this framework, firms that have discriminatory hiring and career-development practices can also expect greater scrutiny from the ministry.
This includes those with a "disproportionately low concentration" of citizens in PME positions compared to others in their industry, said MOM. The scrutiny also applies to firms with repeated complaints of nationality-based or other discriminatory practices.
Such firms, to be identified by MOM by the first quarter of next year, will be required to provide information such as recruitment processes and organisation charts with nationality information.
Unresponsive firms may have their work-pass privileges curtailed, which could include not being able to hire foreign employees for a period of time.
As part of the MOM's regular reviews, the qualifying salary for new EP applications will also be raised from $3,000 to $3,300 from January next year, in line with rising salaries.
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said that the framework is not about getting employers to hire only Singaporeans, but to help them get fair opportunities in the workplace.
"Fair consideration is fundamentally about attitudes and mindsets. It is neither possible to change mindsets overnight nor legislate the problem away," said Mr Tan.
Mr Patrick Tay, director of the National Trades Union Congress' PME Unit and Legal Services Department, said the new framework is a means to "level the playing field, especially for our young PMEs".
The framework was also welcomed by Mr Jonathan Asherson, chairman of the Manpower and Productivity Committee at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.
Still, he pointed out that there is a "need to be cautious that it does not create a sense of uncertainty among foreigners who may feel discouraged from working in Singapore".
Mr Chan Chong Beng, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said that imposing additional scrutiny on firms with discriminatory practices will "deter those who intentionally don't want to employ Singaporeans".
"Even though it's not legislation, it's a signal from MOM that highlights how Singaporeans should not be sidelined," he said.
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Here is the press release from MOM:
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) today announced new rules that require employers to consider Singaporeans fairly before hiring Employment Pass (EP) holders. Firms with discriminatory hiring practices will be subject to additional scrutiny and may have their work pass privileges curtailed. These changes will reinforce expectations for employers to consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities and enhance job market transparency.
"Providing better jobs and diverse opportunities to meet Singaporeans' aspirations are the ultimate objectives of economic growth. Even as we remain open to foreign manpower to complement our local workforce, all firms must make an effort to consider Singaporeans fairly. 'Hiring-own-kind' and other discriminatory practices that unfairly exclude Singaporeans run against our fundamental values of fairness and meritocracy", said Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.
The new rules, known as the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), draw on feedback from Singaporeans who have submitted their views to MOM, through MOM's Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) on Jobs1, and from key stakeholders such as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and employer groups.
Elaborating, Acting Minister Tan said, "What we are doing is to put in place measures to nudge employers to give Singaporeans - especially our young graduates and Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) - a fair chance at both job and development opportunities. But fair consideration is fundamentally about attitudes and mindsets. It is neither possible to change mindsets overnight nor legislate the problem away. We must set expectations about what is acceptable and what is not. It requires persuasion, explanation, and leading by example. The worst employers must be taken to task. This is the context for the Fair Consideration Framework."
A. Key features of the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF)
Considering Singaporeans fairly and improving job matching
MOM expects all firms to consider Singaporeans fairly for jobs, based on merit. All firms are strongly encouraged to advertise their job vacancies and must ensure that jobs advertised are open to Singaporeans.
Firms making new EP applications must advertise the job vacancy on a new jobs bank administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA). The advertisement must be open to Singaporeans, comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices4, and run for at least 14 calendar days.
These requirements must be met before an EP application is submitted to MOM. These new rules will come into effect on August 1, 2014.
Advertising on the jobs bank will benefit both employers and Singaporean job-seekers, as it facilitates better matching of vacancies with job-seekers. Employers will have access to a larger pool of potential candidates. It will also increase the visibility of job openings to all Singaporeans, and will help more to benefit from the better jobs created.
Additional scrutiny for firms which may have discriminatory HR practices
MOM and other government agencies will also identify firms that may have scope to improve their hiring and career development practices. For example, these firms may have a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to others in their industry or have had repeated complaints of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices. Such firms will be asked to provide additional information to MOM such as:
- Organisation charts with nationality information;
- Recruitment processes;
- Staff grievance handling procedures;
- Framework for staff progression; and
- Plans to develop local internal staff to take on higher roles or reduce reliance on EP holders.
If firms are not responsive towards improving their recruitment and training practices, MOM may impose additional requirements, such as requiring the firm to:
- Attest that the firm will not displace any similarly employed Singaporean within 60 calendar days before or after applying or renewing EPs; and
- Display a factsheet containing key information submitted to MOM at its workplace.
Unresponsive firms should expect greater scrutiny and a longer review period for their EP applications. They may also have their work pass privileges curtailed.
Some practical exemptions are needed, especially at the start. Small firms with 25 or fewer employees, and those jobs which pay a fixed monthly salary of $12,000 and above, will be exempted from the advertising requirement in paragraph 6 for practical reasons. However, if complaints are received of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices, these firms will attract additional scrutiny and may have their work pass privileges curtailed.
Acting Minister Tan said, "Singapore has and will remain open to skills and workers from overseas. This has benefited Singaporeans because it allows firms to set up and create jobs in Singapore. But this must not come at the expense of fair HR practices. For Singaporeans to continue to benefit from economic growth, employers must consider Singaporeans fairly not only when hiring but also for career development opportunities. For example, our younger PMEs should be given the guidance and exposure that they need to develop."
He described how the FCF would signal acceptable norms in HR practices by:
Requiring firms to advertise on the jobs bank before submitting an EP application; and Scrutinising firms that have a low proportion of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to others in their industry, or that have repeated complaints made against them.
Acting Minister Tan added, "If firms are unable to find suitable Singaporeans, they will still be able to hire and bring in the skills they need from overseas in order to build a strong team in Singapore of both local and foreign workers."
B. Enhanced EP qualifying requirements
From January 2014, the qualifying salary for new EP applications will be raised from $3,000 to $3,300, in line with rising salaries. Applicants will have to earn a salary of at least $3,300 a month or more, depending on qualifications and experience:
Young graduates from good educational institutions can qualify if they earn at least $3,300; and older applicants will have to command higher salaries to qualify, commensurate with the work experience and quality they are expected to bring.
MOM will continue to raise the quality of our foreign workforce and encourage businesses to reduce their reliance on manpower. The government is committed to helping businesses restructure with various schemes available5. We will provide lead time for firms to make adjustments to comply with the new EP requirements. Raising the EP qualifying salaries at the various experience levels is also an important effort to keep the playing field fair for Singaporeans of different ages.
C. What the new rules signal
Acting Minister Tan said, "These changes are part of a broader effort to ensure that good jobs continue to be created for Singaporeans. Many Singaporeans we spoke to understand the need for a diverse workforce. They recognise the need to compete for jobs on the basis of merit. The framework is not about 'Hire Singaporeans First, or Hire Singaporeans Only'. What the government is doing is to help them get a fair opportunity. Singaporeans must still prove themselves able and competitive to take on the higher jobs that they aspire to. We will continue investing in our continuing education and training infrastructure so that Singaporeans can upgrade their skills and remain competitive in the workplace. With better skills and fair hiring practices, Singaporeans will have good jobs and fulfil their career aspirations."