Leveling the playing field for Singaporean workers?

Leveling the playing field for Singaporean workers?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Manpower Minister explains how to build a SG core in workforce” (TR Emeritus, Mar 5).

It states that “Mr Tan (Chuan Jin) added that the second part to build a Singaporean core lies in how the work pass framework and foreign manpower framework are restructured.

He said, “As we are all familiar, we have put in place a series of changes in terms of the foreign worker levies as well as changes to the Dependency Ratio Ceilings (DRCs). So changes are being made at the Work Permit, S Pass and Employment Pass levels.”

Companies can employ 100% foreigners?

As the DRCs do not apply to employment pass holders, a company can staff 100 per cent of its workforce with employment pass holders. Also, since locals means Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), a company can have 60 per cent PRs, 20 per cent S-pass and 20 per cent work permit holders, or 30 per cent employment pass holders, 30 per cent PRs, 20 per cent S-pass and 20 per cent work permit holders, without any Singaporeans.

Discrimination against Singaporeans?

In this connection, the article “TAFEP admits some financial intitutions hire own FTs rather than SGs” (TR Emeritus, Mar 5) said “Today (4 Mar), an article in Lianhe Zaobao admits that Singaporeans are being discriminated in job market.

This is the first time a quasi government organization admitted publicly that rampant discrimination against Singaporeans exists in financial institutions.”

Ensure level playing field?

With regard to “At the S pass and Employment Pass levels particularly will have an impact on our PMEs. And the idea really, as I have said earlier, is how do we structure such that it complements our workforce and how do we ensure that there is a level playing field? This is something that I will address fully next week at the MOM Committee of Supply (COS) debate”, employment pass holders may be cheaper for employers because they can save up to 16 per cent on the employer CPF contributions.

No employer CPF?

For example, the monthly cost savings for an employment pass holder with a salary of $5,000 is as much as $800. If we count the annual bonus, the cost savings may be even higher.

No maternity leave?

Singaporean women may also be at a disadvantage because foreign work permit holders effectively cannot get pregnant and need the Ministry’s permission to get married. So, employers may not have to contend with the four months’ maternity leave.

Also, most female S-pass and employment pass holders may be single and alone when they come to work in Singapore. So, it may be less likely for them to get maternity leave. Also, those who do get pregnant may not get their typical two-year contract renewed by their employers when it expires.

No NS?

Male foreign workers do not have reservist National Service. So, employers may not have to contend with NS men employees’ leave of absence.

No turnover problems?

What is perhaps arguably, the most disadvantageous aspect for Singaporeans, may be that foreign workers effectively cannot resign during their typical 2-year contract. So, employers may not have to cintend with turnover problems.

Unless, the above policies are reviewed, how can “we ensure that there is a level playing field?”

Pay more for experience, qualifications?

In respect of “He said that the Govt has taken some steps last year in terms of restructuring the Employment Pass framework where not just entry-level pay is factored in, but also now, the foreign worker’s experience.

He said, “This is important to ensure a more level playing field for Singaporeans. And we have extended these changes to the S pass framework as well”, some foreign workers, local or foreign employment agencies, or employers, may get around this new measure by undeclaring their qualifications or experience.

In this connection, I have come across foreign graduate engineers earning over $1,000 on work permits. This is unfair competition for jobs and depression of wages for Singaporeans, which the Ministry is now presumably trying to address with the new measures.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Let’s say we have a foreign worker with ‘A’ levels, a diploma, bachelors degree, masters degree and a PhD.

The worker, employment agency or employer, may just declare only his ‘A’ levels with no experience to work under a work permit.

Or, he may just declare his bachelors degree with some experience, to work under a S-pass, or just his bachelors degree with more experience to work under a lower-pay employment pass.

Downgrade employment pass to S-pass?

The fact that last year’s employment pass statistics indicate an increase of about 25 per cent in S-pass holders due partly to downgrading from employment pass to S-pass may be an indication of the issue described above. (“Employment pass numbers down: Really?” Jan 31)

Why didn’t we simply disallow the downgrading of employment pass to S-pass?

More time to study?

As to “Mr Tan also mentioned that MOM is currently studying how other countries are implementing their work pass frameworks.

He said, “A new area that we are looking at would be to look at the way other countries implement some of their work pass frameworks for foreign talents at the Employment Pass level category”, this problem has been going on for years. So, how many more years do we need to study the problem?

Perhaps what we need direly is effective action, instead of more talk like “So we want to look at how to make sure that Singaporeans are given fair consideration during the hiring process. The principle of not discriminating against Singaporean workers should similarly apply in downsizing exercises”

Weak guidelines?

With regard to “Mr Tan also talked about putting in place to investigate non-compliance with the Guidelines set by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP). Companies flouting the Guidelines will be penalized by having their work pass privileges curtailed.

He said, “The Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices requires firms to make reasonable efforts to train and develop a Singaporean core. And as mentioned during the White Paper debate on population, we are already putting in place a process where we will investigate non-compliance with the Guidelines, and if proven, we will curtail work pass privileges”, do these remarks mean that as I understand it, TAFEP may not have much real power to penalise errant companies, since they are “guidelines”?

These remarks may also indicate the weakness of the legislation and processes, as curtaling work pass previleges may not be effective for employers which may not be substantially reliant on foreign workers, or if the unfair employment practice may have nothing to do with foreign workers’ hiring. Or, do these remarks hint that much of the cases may be related to foreign worker policies?