Google map image of Manpai College of Nursing

Heng says to cut foreign worker quota but Zaqy says healthcare sector will not be affected

In the Budget debate last Mon (18 Feb), Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat promised that foreign worker quota will be cut further to support our locals.

He said the Government is tightening the Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC), or the proportion of foreign workers a firm can employ, from 40 per cent to 38 per cent on Jan 1 next year, and to 35 per cent on Jan 1, 2021.

For the subset of S Pass workers – mid-skilled foreigners earning at least $2,300 a month – the quota will be cut from 15 per cent to 13 per cent on Jan 1 next year, and to 10 per cent on Jan 1, 2021.

However, yesterday (27 Feb), Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told Parliament that operations of essential services, like healthcare, will not be affected by cuts in the foreign worker quotas. Healthcare providers will be given “manpower flexibilities” so that their operations will not be affected, he said.

“We will work closely with the industry, to support businesses in developing more efficient techniques and service models, so that they can grow and transform in a tight labour market,” he said.

He recognised that access to foreigners is crucial to help firms remain competitive, especially if they have experience in emerging growth areas or skills that are in short supply in Singapore.

Singapore and India signed Enhanced CECA to recognize Indian nursing degrees

It’s not known if the Manpower Ministry’s refusal to cut foreign worker quota in healthcare has to do with the enhanced trade agreement signed between Singapore and India last year.

On 1 Jun last year, Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) released a public statement announcing that Singapore and India have successfully concluded the second review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

As part of the agreement, Singapore would recognize more Indian degrees and diplomas so as to facilitate Indian nationals to work in Singapore.

In particular, both countries would recognize nursing degrees and diplomas from each other. Under the agreement, Singapore would now recognize “seven nursing institutions” from India.

The media in India immediately recognize its significance. The Business Standard of India reported that it will be “easier for (Indian) domestic nurses to explore employment opportunities in Singapore now, as India has signed mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the south east Asian nation in this sector”.

“India has signed the MRA in nursing with Singapore. This is the first MRA being signed by India with any of our FTA partners,” the Indian commerce ministry also said.

The Hindu reported that the agreement would allow “nurses trained in seven nursing institutions across India to gain employment in the South-East Asian country”.

Fake degrees?

But many Singaporean netizens are concerned. In recent years, incidents of nurses from India caught with fake nursing degrees and documents keep coming up.

In Dec 2017, some of the Indian nurses together with those from the Philippines were caught with fake nursing degrees and jailed by the Saudi authorities.

The forgery was uncovered by a team of experts from the Ministry of Health in Saudi during screening of nurses recruited through leading manpower agencies in Manila and New Delhi planning to work in Saudi. Apparently, the applicants did possess genuine academic qualifications. However, they furnished fabricated experience certificates with longer than actual work duration to boost their hiring prospects.

Those nurses who have served in Saudi for a long time with proven track records were also facing problems after the authorities made it mandatory on them to produce their certificates for the renewal of licenses. These nurses say some of the institutions they graduated from or worked at were either closed or relocated.