Speaking at a forum organized by the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) yesterday (8 Jul), Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh from the Workers’ Party (WP) called for strong anti-discrimination laws to safeguard the interests of Singaporean workers.
He reiterated that anti-discriminatory legislation is needed because what is in place now has its loopholes.
In particular, he asked for legislative weight to deal with recalcitrant employers who discriminate against locals. He also advocated having mandatory educational assessments to be imposed on foreign job applicants.
Indeed, Singaporeans have been concerned over the qualifications of some of the foreign job applicants coming to work in Singapore.
For example, when news emerged in Feb this year that Manav Bharti University had been caught selling 36,000 fake degrees across 17 Indian states in over 11 years, netizens quickly found out that some of the foreign PMETs working here are actually graduates from Manav Bharti University.
In response to the public uproar, Singapore’s Manpower Ministry (MOM) subsequently announced that it was investigating 15 work pass holders who had declared qualifications from the said university.
Fair Consideration Framework needs more teeth
At the forum, while Mr Singh shared that WP supports the MOM’s Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) in principle, he said that the framework needs more teeth. That is the reason why he is calling the government to seriously consider enacting anti-discrimination legislation with statutory penalties.
This would send a “powerful signal” for businesses to change how they recruit, he said, noting employers who are caught unfairly hiring foreigners over Singaporeans are currently subjected only to administrative penalties.
Presently, under FCF, if companies are caught hiring foreigners over Singaporeans unfairly, the MOM would only curtail their hiring privileges for a period of time to hire foreigners. The directors of those errant companies would go unscathed.
Many have criticised that FCF is just a “wayang” (for show) since it doesn’t stop a company to earmark a foreign job applicant but still goes through some token motions of interviewing a few Singaporeans and finally said that those Singaporeans were not suitable.
Genuine emotive force on the ground
Mr Singh also called on companies to do their part and play a more proactive role to address the concerns of Singapore workers.
Firms should also conduct regular reviews of the number of Singaporean workers at every level and the number of these workers transiting to the middle and upper management levels of a company, across all sectors, he said.
Such reviews ought to be incorporated as a “key performance indicator” for every company in Singapore, he added.
“We can blame populist politicians, but their methods would have no cachet if there wasn’t a genuine emotive force on the ground for them to tap into in the first place,” said Mr Singh.
“Some Singaporeans question our FTAs because they struggle to see how their lives and those of their compatriots have actually improved because of them.”
Mr Singh added that Singapore must remain open to foreign nationals, but how it manages and accommodates foreigners in the economy may have to change.
In any case, it appears that such genuine emotive force against the perceived overwhelming hiring of foreign workers over Singaporeans is said to have helped WP secured a second GRC in last year’s election.