With the announcement of increasing minimum salary threshold for Employment Passes (EPs) and S Passes, Singapore is “re-doubling up efforts” to emphasise on “quality rather than quantity”, which actually have been done by the Government progressively over the years, said the Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing during a media interview on Saturday (29 Aug).
“Whenever the economic conditions require it, we will progressively adjust the qualifying salaries for the foreign employees coming into Singapore because in doing this, we raise the headroom for Singaporeans to compete while at the same time, it doesn’t affect the really top tier of talent that we want to attract from the world,” Mr Chan told Channel News Asia.
The presence of certain nationality in different sectors, he said is “actually a function of the choice of industry we want to have in the economic” though he acknowledged that “there is a concentration of certain nationality” in information and communication technology (ICT) sectors and finance sectors in Singapore.
“But this is not the challenges that unique to us. In fact, if you look around the world today, the fastest growing sectors are three, ICT, finance and professional services,” he added.
He went on to argue that the “preponderant of certain nationality” also happens in all the global cities that focus on these three sectors, and not just in Singapore.
“This is a global challenge and that is ultimately because the whole world is not producing enough people in some of these fields. It is a very uneven production of such people and everybody wants the best. So, this is a hyper-competitive world.
“While we accept that we don’t yet have enough of people and talent in these three sectors, we will do what we can to ramp up the production and training of our people as fast as we can,” the Minister asserted.
In order to help Singaporeans to succeed and compete in this hyper-competitive world, he said that the Government must “revamp” the way they look at education and training, which it will be a concept of lifelong training and upgrading, instead of just be about 15 or 20 years of compulsory education.
Govt can fully understand and empathise with S’poreans who are anxious about job competition with foreigners; will have “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind”
Meanwhile, Mr Chan noted that the Government can “fully understand and empathise” with Singaporeans who are anxious about competing with foreigners for jobs, especially during this period of slowing economy.
“Ironically, our anxiety has increased just as the number of foreign workers including EP and S Pass holder. And this is really an issue not just about the number of foreigners in Singapore per se; the real issue is we are now facing a weak economy that is causing all of us to be more anxious about our future,” he said.
Stressing that Singaporeans have to be treated fairly in searching of jobs and in their employment conditions, Mr Chan said the Government will have “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind”, regardless of gender, race and age.
“We do not hope to see companies overly relying on any particular source of labour from foreign countries,” he remarked.
He explained that the country needs diverse talents from both locals and foreign complement to develop the international markets and for the companies who are overly relied on one particular source of foreign labour, it will be very hard for them to continue to serve the markets in a sustainable way if there is sudden disruption due to political issue or a pandemic.
“We want all companies to pay attention in effort to localise the skillset that we will not have previously. At the beginning, we will not have all the skillsets that we want and we need, but over the time we will encourage and work with the company to help groom the Singaporean talent pipeline,” he said.
However, he also pointed out that it is necessary for “some proportion of foreign complement in different sectors” as Singapore seeks to grow and diversify into more sectors.
Chan Chun Sing debunks misperception about CECA
Speaking about the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which signed between both countries back in 2005, the Minister also debunked the misperception that CECA has granted Indian nationals “unconditional access” to Singapore, immigration privilege as well as the employment.
Noting these are all untrue, he explained that all foreigners must meet the prevailing EP criteria such as minimum salaries threshold.
“The clauses on the intra-corporate transferees in CECA and our other free trade agreements (FTAs) are not unique. It is also consistent with what is stated in the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services signed by more than 160 members,” he noted.
He went on to stress that the practice of enabling the intra-corporate transferees is meant to help companies to expand overseas as the companies will “bring along their own people at least in their initial phas
es” when they expand overseas.
“It is the same for foreign company seeking to set up their investment here. It is also the same for Singaporean company going overseas. It supports our growing trade and investment bilaterally,” he noted.
CECA protects Singapore companies that invest in India, attracts foreign investors who invest in India, and employ Singaporeans to manage their investments
Highlighting that Singapore’s trade with India has grown by $7.6 billion and investments, by 34 times since CECA was signed that, Mr Chan defended CECA, saying it not only protects Singapore companies that invest in India, but also attracts foreign investors who invest in India, and employ Singaporeans to manage their investments.
“We have more than 650 companies in Singapore that have invested in India. Now at home, these companies employ more than 100,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs),” he said.
However, when being asked to reveal the number of intra-corporate transferees who have applied to become PR and have then gone on to become citizens, he refused to provide it, noting that “the proportion of the Chinese, Indians, Malays in Singapore remain relatively stable over the years”.
Mr Chan also did not reveal the timeline for the next review of CECA, but only mentioned that all the FTAs include a clause for regular reviews.
Due to the recent developments in the global environment, he cautioned that the Government “must be very careful going into any of these negotiations” given that many countries have heightened their protectionist sentiment which would make “any review very difficult” for Singapore.
“In fact, many countries are going into such reviews from a defensive position to continue to secure their interest rather than to secure more interest. In a COVID-19 world, the global production chain and the global supply chain are shifting, so we must be very careful how the shift of the balance of power is going to be, because if we are not careful, then we might find ourselves in a very disadvantage position.”
Penning their thought on the Facebook page of Channel News Asia, many netizens seems to be frustrated with the Minister’s remark during the interview. The netizens said that the graduates from top universities in Singapore which educated and raised by the Government education policy should be able to perform the so-called “foreign talent” jobs, as compared with the foreigners came under CECA.
They also doubted that if the CECA is endlessly and easily granted approval to foreign talents to take up the local jobs.
“CECA is a good representation of importing foreigners by quantity,” one netizen expressed.
The netizens also reminded the Government to look after their own citizens and should groom the local talents. They said that Singaporeans should be given “a fair playing field” to compete with foreigners.
“Are we doing enough to create an environment to nurture top local talents rather than looking for a quick but sustainable solution from overseas?” one netizen wrote.
A handful of netizens also called out the Government to announce the complete data in order to convince the citizens.
A few citizens lamented that why Singaporeans have to suffer and sacrifice for the goods of Singapore economy due to the cracks in the Government’s policies.