6 Ministers has led Manpower Ministry since signing of CECA in 2005

6 Ministers has led Manpower Ministry since signing of CECA in 2005

Last month (5 Aug), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that another 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 already placed in the watchlist as revealed by Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in Parliament earlier this year.

Last month’s announcement came on the heels of the recent General Election held in Jul, which saw the ruling PAP government lost another GRC and performed worse than it had anticipated.

Of the 47 companies, 30 were said to be in the financial and professional service sectors. They include banks, fund management firms, management consulting companies, as well as firms that provide project management and engineering services.

MOM said that these 30 firms have been found to have employed 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.

“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. It added that those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges curtailed.

MOM also said that another 240 firms are under investigation for possible pre-selection of foreigners or not adhering to the spirit of the job advertising requirement under FCF. It urged members of the public to report specific instances of discriminatory behaviour by any firms they might have encountered.

MOM did not name the companies nor the nationalities involved but immediately after the announcement from MOM, netizens were already posting on CNA Facebook page saying that the mentioned “same nationality” was referring to Indian nationals, especially those working in the financial and professional service sectors:

Complaints over discriminatory hiring practices brewing since signing of CECA

Singaporeans have observed a large increase of foreign PMETs in the last 15 years or so, especially after the signing of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2005.

In 2007, Singapore had a total of 143,700 foreign PMETs (EP and S Pass holders) working in Singapore. Twelve years later by the end of last year, the number of foreign PMETs in Singapore shot up 2.7 times to 393,700, or nearly 400,000.

During this period, Singaporeans have also observed the influx of foreign PMETs from the “same nationality”, so much so that living and working enclaves of this “same nationality” have gradually been forming in Singapore. They are typically situated in the East side of Singapore.

Even West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng finally realised it when he told Parliament last month (31 Aug) that for the first time, he felt “like a foreigner in my own country” when he visited Changi Business Park. He said when he was there, people around him were “apparently foreigners” and speaking in a language foreign to him (‘MP Ang Wei Neng takes 9 yrs to feel like a foreigner in own country when visiting Changi Business Park‘).

In any case, this “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” would not have been possible if MOM had not kept issuing work passes (EP or S Pass) to expats from this “same nationality”. All foreign expats working in Singapore need to obtain a work pass from MOM in order to legally work here.

Since the signing of CECA in 2005, 6 ministers have been appointed Manpower Minister:

  1. Ng Eng Hen – Aug 2003 to Apr 2008
  2. Gan Kim Yong – Apr 2008 to May 2011
  3. Tharman Shanmugaratnam – May 2011 to Jul 2012
  4. Tan Chuan-Jin – Aug 2012 to May 2015
  5. Lim Swee Say – May 2015 to Apr 2018
  6. Josephine Teo – May 2018 to current

The increase in foreign PMETs was the steepest under the watch of Ng Eng Hen and Gan Kim Yong. It’s not known among the 6, which minister(s) was/were responsible for continuing to issue work passes to expats from this “same nationality” without checking for “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” in those firms employing them.

To be fair, Tharman and Tan Chuan-Jin did take note that the phenomenon of “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” might be caused by practices of “hiring their own kinds”. In 2013, with complaints from Singaporeans mounting, then DPM Tharman and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin had to call up some financial institutions in Singapore asking them to stop the practice of “hiring their own kinds”. It was revealed by Minister Tan in Parliament in 2013.

Minister Tan did not name the banks nor the nationalities of the hiring managers but many netizens were already pointing to expats from India.

Nevertheless, despite last month’s announcement from Minister Josephine Teo, some netizens are not convinced about the sincerity of the government in its latest actions to stop the discriminatory hiring practices. Facebook user Panda Tse summed up the feelings of many such netizens, “They (government) only wayang to wake up a little when votes dropped below 65%.”

It remains to be seen if the phenomenon of “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities” would still persist by the next GE in 5 years’ time.

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