As a follow on from last week’s labour heavy concerns, this continues to be the trend this week with the Secretary-General of the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Ng Chee Meng admitting in an interview with The Straits Times that the overall level of anxiety among Singaporeans about foreigners working in Singapore has heightened. He went on to suggest that the current Employment Pass policies may need to be tightened by the government.
It must be noted however that decreasing standards of living and fears for job losses have been hot button issues way before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. These were issues that have been consistently raised by alternative politicians and news websites in the past. There have been concerns about the growing number of PMETs in Singapore as local PMETs were losing their jobs. Elderly people needing to work way past their retirement age is also not a new issue.
Adding to Ng’s concerns, a retired senior banker, Raymond Koh Bock Swi has also written in to the forum section of the Straits Times to voice his concerns about the hiring practices of the big banks in Singapore. Most notably, he said that he could categorically state “that in the past two decades, many foreigners hired in Singapore’s finance sector have been for upper-middle to senior management positions.” which is in direct opposition to the banks’ claims that a large majority of their employees (especially in the senior positions) are local. He went on to say “once hired, these foreign staff can easily and in a short time secure their permanent resident (PR) status in Singapore. Therefore, when analysing the actual makeup of local staff, it is misleading to combine the Singaporeans and PRs,” which suggests that the current data put forward may not be an accurate representation of the full picture.
It would also appear that even as the authorities try to clamp down on the number of foreigners in PMET jobs in Singapore, there are suggestions that the Government may have its hands tied because of treaty obligations that it has signed up to in the past. Currently, the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), which was introduced to promote fair employment practices and improve labour market transparency in Singapore, mandates employers to advertise all job openings on MyCareersFuture.sg and fairly consider all candidates before they are allowed to submit an Employment pass application for a foreigner. However, there is a current loophole which allows intra-corporate transferees (ICTs) to be exempted from this FCF requirement. This means that an employer can transfer someone from a foreign office to fill a vacant job in Singapore without the need for that employer to consider a Singaporean first which could be discriminatory to Singaporeans.
Indeed, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general and PAP MP Patrick Tay has noted that this is a loophole that needs to be removed. Yet, this is much easier said than done because there may be pre existing international obligations that Singapore must fulfil. An example would be the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which could make it virtually impossible for the Singapore government to remove such exemption, at least for ICTs coming from India. It is noteworthy that it was none other than DPM Heng Swee Keat, who led the Singapore team in negotiating CECA with India back when he was the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Industry more than 15 years ago (‘ST says number of local IT grads set to grow while CECA continues to import IT workers from India‘).
Another issue to consider is whether or not the current support structures and safety nets for the lower income groups are still fit for purpose?
Given that employment concerns and the rising rate of foreign PMETs in Singapore are not new concerns, one can only hope that with the heads of NTUC onboard, serious changes can be made. Although, the extent to which changes can be made will also depend on how well various government agencies can work together with a common vision to bring this about. We will have to wait and see.
Another news generator this week has been Lee Suet Fern’s appeal against the earlier decision of the Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) convened by the Law Society on the back of a complaint from the Attorney-General’s Chambers that Lee has somehow flouted her professional duties in her dealings concerning the late Lee Kuan Yew’s (LKY) final will and testament. While the Law Society is of the opinion that Lee had a solicitor-client relationship with LKY, her lawyers have contended that she merely played an “administrative” role where the will was concerned. In other words, she was acting as LKY’s daughter in law who also happened to have a law firm as opposed to LKY’s lawyer.
While the court presided by three judges has reserved its judgment, some in the community have speculated that this complaint against Lee might have been politically motivated.
It is noteworthy that Lee’s son, Li Shengwu, who has been tied up in a court battle with the Singapore government over a private Facebook post he made, has announced that he has decided to pay the fine of S$15,000 for contempt of court over that Facebook post. Li, who is the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said in a Facebook post “I have decided to pay the fine, in order to buy some peace and quiet. Paying the fine avoids giving the Singapore government an easy excuse to attack me and my family.”
As the coronavirus continues to rage globally, authorities have controversially mandated that some migrant workers would have to remain at their worksites until the construction projects they are working on are completed. This has led many to label such requirements as “inhuman”. After all, given that the Government has publicly said that testing within dormitories are complete, thereby giving the impression that things are safe and under control, why can’t the migrant workers return to them?
Singapore Democratic Party’s Dr. Chee Soon Juan has voiced concerns over the alarming rate of suicide among young people in Singapore saying that he had come across a report which found that 71 people aged between 20 and 29 killed themselves last year.
Mental health is a very valid concern and indeed something that the Government and the community at large will need to address.
There have also been reports of how a visually impaired person, Sophie Soon and her guide dog were denied entry at a Subway outlet. According to reports, Soon was yelled at. While Subway has apologised, this does open the debate on whether or not we are doing enough as a society to support people who are disabled. It is well and good to deal with specific offending staff, but businesses need to invest in training their staff on these issues. Dealing with individual staff will not solve the problem of unprofessional staff long term.
Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Toshimitsu Motegi , has in a three-day visit to Singapore, agreed with Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, to resume essential business travel between both countries via two tracks: the “residence track” and the“business track”. The “residence track” will provide a special quota of cross-border travel by the work pass holder while the “business track” will comprise a reciprocal green lane which gives short-term business travellers a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days along with the necessary public health safeguards.
The Malaysian government has announced that it is ready for the cross-border travel between Malaysia and Singapore under the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) starting 17 Aug.
ten read articles in the past week
- Malaysia- Singapore ‘travel bubble’ will see borders reopening on 17 August
- Retired banker: Common market knowledge that some banks sideline SG talents
- Neurologist and LKY’s daughter Lee Weiling diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy
- Labour chief now suggests to tighten EP policies after being voted out as MP in GE2020
- Restaurant staff rejects visually-impaired swimmer to enter, claims guide dogs are not allowed in Halal restaurants
- SPP’s Khan Osman Sulaiman questions the kind of jobs offered to S’poreans under SGUnited jobs package
- Local HR professional asks: Indonesia’s hiring policies prohibit foreigners to take on HR roles, but why can’t Singapore?
- Retrenched Indian Expat already has job offers “in the works” in less than 3 months
- Doesn’t Shanmugam have better things to do than to spur anti-Malaysian sentiments in Singapore with his FB post?
- Court of 3 judges to decide if Lee Suet Fern should be disbarred
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