SINGAPORE - More protection and support should be given to professionals, managers and executives (PME), urged several MPs.
In the face of foreign competition, this "sandwiched class" needs more attention from the authorities, they said yesterday on the first day of debate on the President's Address.
Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) made one of the strongest calls, saying firms should give qualified Singaporeans priority over foreigners for PME jobs. "It is time that we move our manpower policies for PMEs from a defensive, anti-discrimination position to one where we actively promote and champion the hiring and development of Singaporeans."
She noted that from August, firms will have to advertise on a jobs bank for 14 days before applying to hire foreign PMEs.
Yet the eventual decision is still up to them, she said. "The Manpower Minister further emphasised that (this) is not about 'Hire Singaporeans First' - but many are asking, 'Why not?'"
She wanted employers to have to prove that if a foreigner is hired, it is only because there are no suitable locals. Firms that hire foreigners should also be obliged to have a formal system for training and developing Singaporeans, and to ensure skills from foreign hires are transferred to locals.
"I believe that the current negative sentiment against foreign talent will ease when Singaporeans no longer feel that their livelihoods are threatened," she said.
If the issue of jobs for Singaporeans is not managed well, such resulting sentiments "can send the wrong signals to employers and foreign investors", noted Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC).
Labour MP Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) proposed several ways to help PMEs.
The Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications framework of training courses should have a greater focus on PMEs, not just rank-and-file or mid-level staff.
Government funding should be more accessible to individual PMEs, and not just for firms.
Companies should be given incentives to let employees pursue a "second skill" during work hours.
And industries which regularly lay off employees - such as finance - could provide better support for the retrenched, he said. This could take the form of subsidies and payments, to act as a form of "unemployment insurance" to tide them over. "If the PME is laid off with no fault of his or her own, employers have a moral responsibility to see through the career transition for them."
For Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam, the issue was that firms are being treated too well in comparison with workers. She called for "policies that favour Singaporeans, not an absolute growth model" for the economy.
This article was first published on May 27, 2014.
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