The SCMP today published an article highlighting Singaporeans’ concerns over the free-trade agreement, Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which Singapore signed with India in 2005 (‘Are Singaporean workers really losing jobs to Indian expats due to Ceca free-trade deal?‘, 12 Sep).
“On social media, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) is being blamed for willy-nilly letting Indian nationals into Singapore to steal jobs from locals – no matter how many times the government says it is not true,” reported SCMP.
SCMP did ask the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) for comments on the matter, and in response, MTI said that intra-corporate transferees account for less than five per cent of all Employment Pass holders. That worked out to about 9,500 workers, and Indian nationals were but “a small segment” of those, said MTI.
On social media, many Singaporeans have been speculating that clauses in CECA are enabling intra-corporate transferees from India to “steal” jobs from Singaporeans.
In the interview with SCMP, the MTI spokesperson pointed out that most free-trade agreements had commitments on the movement of workers, including on intra-corporate transferees. The person reiterated that CECA is not much different from the 24 other free trade agreements that Singapore has signed, when it comes to the movement of workers.
“The purpose behind that is to facilitate companies when they invest overseas. When you invest overseas, you will want to bring some of your own employees to start off the investment,” said the spokesperson.
Earlier, Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has said that Singapore’s CECA commitments were not unique, and that most of the 164 World Trade Organisation members also had commitments on the entry of intra-corporate transferees under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. He said Singapore companies also made use of the intra-corporate transferees provision to take their employees along when starting out overseas.
Agreements like CECA benefit Singapore just as they benefit India, the government has maintained. CECA allows Singapore banks DBS and UOB to set up shop in India, meaning Singapore companies can easily access these banks’ financial services when doing business in India.
Also, Chan said that many Singapore companies are doing business in India. By 2018, more than 650 Singapore companies had invested in India, he said.
What about the 127 professions mentioned in CECA? MTI replied that while the list spells out what qualifies as a “profession”, it does not mean that those professionals get free entry into Singapore, or that they are prioritized over others.
“All foreign professionals – including Indian nationals – who wish to come to Singapore must meet work-pass qualifying criteria, including relevant education and professional qualifications, before they are allowed to work in Singapore,” the spokesperson clarified.
The inclusion of the list, the spokesperson said, was “a negotiated outcome” between Singapore and India.
Meanwhile, Victor Tan, who requested a pseudonym, insisted that job woes were caused by the “lopsided” CECA signed with India, which enables a “free flow” of Indian nationals coming to Singapore.
His observations come from his 14 years in the relocation industry – helping expatriates to move in and out of Singapore. He said that since 2016, the proportion of nationalities had shifted from being mostly Australian and British, to Indian.
“We don’t see any of our Singapore locals going over to India to hold high positions. Instead, a lot of them are coming here, holding high positions,” Tan said. “When I was job searching, I didn’t see any opportunities in India for Singaporeans to go over.”
High concentration of PMETs from single nationalities discovered by MOM
Still, last month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) suddenly made a public announcement that 47 companies with suspected discriminatory hiring practices have been placed on its Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watchlist (‘MOM places firms with “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” in FCF watchlist‘).
This is on top of the 1,000 firms in the watchlist as announced by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in Parliament earlier this year – an increase of about 400 more firms than what was on the watchlist a year ago.
The announcement came after the recent General Election which saw the ruling PAP government lose another GRC and perform worse than it had anticipated.
Of the 47 companies, 30 (64 per cent) are in the financial and professional services sectors. They include banks, fund management firms, management consulting companies, as well as firms that provide project management and engineering services.
MOM said that all 30 of the financial and professional services employers have a “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities”.
In one financial institution in the fund management industry, 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.
“We will subject their hiring to closer scrutiny to ensure that there is no nationality bias against locals, which is unacceptable and not in line with fair, merit-based hiring,” said MOM.
Even though MOM did not name the companies or the nationalities involved, most netizens pointed to Indian nationals.