In an interview with The Straits Times (ST) on Thursday (13 Aug), NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng noted that the overall level of anxiety among Singaporeans over foreigners working here has heightened and went on to suggest that Employment Pass policies may need to be tightened by the government.
Ng, however, did qualify saying that foreigners are still needed to augment Singaporeans in order to expand the economy.
Previously, Ng had rarely if ever spoken publicly on Employment Pass policies since he was elected by the NTUC Central Committee members on 22 May 2018 to become Secretary-General of the NTUC.
His suggestion came after last month’s general election when he was voted out by the Sengkang GRC electorate in the General Election 2020. His position as NTUC Secretary-General was preserved as the NTUC Central Committee said that they stands in “unanimous support” with the former MP.
Last week (5 Aug), the Manpower Ministry (MOM) has announced that 30 of the 47 companies put on watchlist for suspected discriminatory hiring practices, came from the financial and professional services sectors. The 30 were found to have a “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities”.
In one financial institution, almost three-quarters of their PMETs are of the “same nationality” and in another bank, almost two-thirds of the PMETs are also of the “same nationality”, MOM revealed. It’s not known why MOM decided to issue so many work passes to these foreigners of the same nationality working in those banks in the first place.
In the interview, Ng told ST that it is a “never-ending process” of adjusting policies to each phase of the nation’s development.
It started with the tightening of work permit policy followed by the mid-skilled S Pass workers, he noted. The next step could be to look at possibilities for Employment Passes, “with a very fine balance between the numbers that are coming in, and also attracting the top talents into Singapore”, he added.
To date, more than 1,200 companies have been put on watchlist by MOM for suspected or confirmed discriminatory hiring practices.
Ng said he understands the anxieties and frustrations among Singaporeans competing for a good job amid a downturn.
“But we must also understand that Singapore is a very open economy. We need the linkages, the networks and the talents that would create and anchor Singapore as an international hub, where we are business-friendly, where we welcome diversity of people into the economy to create the biggest possible space in our nation state so that we can uplift Singaporeans’ lives,” he added.
“That balance is the most challenging one in current circumstances.”
Hiring own kind
However, in the government’s interests to “welcome talents” into Singapore over the past many years in order to expand the economy, some companies began to take advantage of the Singapore government’s naivety to hire large number of staff from the “same nationality”.
As far back as 2013, then Deputy Prime Minister and Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Chairman Tharman Shanmugaratnam told the media that the government had already noticed in the different “hiring mixes” among the banks in Singapore.
Singaporeans were found to be sidelined in favour of hiring foreigners from the “same nationality”. Things became so bad that then DPM Tharman and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin had to call up the banks to ask them stop the practice of “hiring their own kinds”. This was revealed in Parliament by Minister Tan in 2013.
Minister Tan did not name the banks nor the nationality of the hiring managers but many netizens have pointed out that they were Indian nationals.
In fact, prior to 2013, complaints and concerns about high numbers of foreigners in the financial sector have already been raised by Singaporeans. The high numbers were gradually built-up since Singapore signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India in 2005.
In any case, 7 years after 2013, Singaporeans continue to share the same concerns and MAS continues to talk about developing a “Singaporean core” in the financial industry after a bank was found to have almost three-quarters of their PMETs recruited from the “same nationality” (‘MAS has to urge banks to build up Singaporean core 7 years after Tharman’s call in 2013‘).