Speaking to the media on Friday (3 Jul) after a visit to an SGUnited Jobs and Skills Fair at the Employment and Employability Institute, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo defended the Government’s record on protecting Singaporeans’ jobs and livelihoods, adding that its policies on employing foreign workers have been tightened over the years.
She said that foreign workers serve as a buffer in uncertain times. In the present COVID-19 pandemic, foreign employment shrank by 60,000 from January to May this year, she added.
“It is very clear that in (a time of) recession, foreign employment has served as a buffer. And… this is a result of the tremendous support that is being provided to companies for local employment.”
The Jobs Support Scheme, for example, subsidises the wages of local workers and not foreign ones. “As a result, when companies have to make a decision on whether to continue with their local employees or to continue with their foreign employees, it is quite clear to them where the support from the Government is, and they will make their decisions accordingly,” she said.
Mrs Teo noted that criteria for Employment Pass (EP) and S-Pass (SP) for foreigners to work in Singapore have been tightened.
“It would be useful for all political parties that wish to comment on this issue to study the facts of what we have been doing with regard to EP policy, S Pass policy,” she said. “I think the track record of the Government in this regard is crystal clear.”
Number of foreign PMETs continues to increase in Singapore
Even though the criteria for EP and SP may have been tightened in recent years for foreign PMETS to work here, their number continues to increase in Singapore (‘Number of foreign PMETs in Singapore hits 400K; largest increase last year since 2015 GE‘).
At the end of last year, the number of foreign PMETs on EP and SP hit almost 400K at 393,700. This was the largest increase at 3.3% since the last general election in 2015.
Foreign PMETs “complement” Singaporeans?
In a media interview in May, Trade and Development Minister Chan Chun Sing told the media that Singapore has to step up its efforts to find foreign PMETs who would best complement local talents so as to compete in the world market.
“Because if they don’t complement Singapore, then they might end up competing against Singapore,” he added.
Even as the world is buffeted by the rough waves of protectionist sentiments and travel restrictions, Singapore needs to remain an “open and safe harbour” for higher-skilled foreign PMETs, he said.
In a separate media interview, DPM Heng Swee Keat also said that the key issue is that Singapore’s domestic labour force is insufficient and will decline as the population ages.
However, cases of foreign PMETs replacing rather than complementing Singaporeans have been surfacing with more Singaporeans willing to voice out their predicaments in public.
In Feb this year, the TodayOnline reported a case of a Singaporean woman working at an international financial firm being unfairly “replaced” by a foreign PMET from Hong Kong.
The 40-year-old Singaporean told the reporter that she was let go from her job. In an effort to cut costs, the company had combined two roles and chose to replace her with a foreign employee who was brought over from Hong Kong branch.
When she asked her foreign boss why she was not retained, he told her that he had evaluated both their performances and felt the foreign employee was a better fit for the company. The Singaporean, who had been with the company as a financial planner for six years, was not convinced.
She said, “This is not a skill set issue. I agree that some local workers may need to do some reskilling but that is not the case for me.”
Feeling that she had been unfairly discriminated by the company, she filed a complaint against the company to Mrs Teo’s ministry. It’s not know if her ministry did eventually issue a work pass for that company’s Hong Kong staff to work in Singapore.