In a media interview at Joo Chiat Community Club last Saturday (10 Jul), Manpower Minister (MOM) Tan See Leng told reporters that the government is currently looking at how to inject more diversity into the foreign workforce.
Tan’s comments came on the back of a heated debate over the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in Parliament last Tuesday (6 Jul).
During the debate, Tan rebutted Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa, who had raised questions and issues on whether the growth in Employment Pass (EP) holders has come at the expense of local PMETs.
Nevertheless, Tan told reporters last Saturday that the government would examine the diversity of the workforce in sectors that need a lot of foreign workers. He said that MOM hopes not to see a concentration of workers from a certain source or nationality.
“From the perspective of this Covid-19 pandemic, one of the painful lessons we have learnt is that if you overly rely on one particular country, whether it is labour or for your talent, and if something happens and you get disruption, then you are going to be in a much more difficult position,” he said.
During the debate, Tan disclosed that the proportion of Indian nationals among EP holders had increased from 14% in 2005 to 25% last year. That is to say, among the 177,000 EP holders last year, one quarter came from 1 single country alone – India. He didn’t disclose similar figures for S Pass holders.
When asked if MOM would consider imposing quotas on EP holders based on nationality, he said that he does not believe in quotas and that this would be “very difficult” to impose. “There has to be a huge element of the free market,” he said.
Previous Manpower Ministers: Lim Swee Say and Josephine Teo
In any case, it’s strange that Tan told reporters MOM now doesn’t want to see a concentration of workers from a certain source or nationality when it was MOM who allowed it to happen in the first place. MOM is the government authority responsible for issuing EP and S Pass for foreign professionals to work here.
Back in 2013, then Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin had already noticed the congregating of workers from a certain source or nationality, due to the practice of “hiring-own-kind” starting to pervade the industries at the time.
He told Parliament then, “We have heard anecdotes of how in certain cases, heads of business units or HR managers have a preference for candidates they are familiar with or of the same nationality, for reasons that are irrelevant to job performance and irrespective of whether they are more competent than other candidates.”
“There are in fact a number of ‘live’ cases that MOM is currently investigating. Let me use an ongoing example to illustrate. A discriminatory online job advertisement was recently put up – I was tempted to mention their company but I won’t, it’s a fairly prominent company, saying that it only wanted to recruit people of a certain nationality.”
“I personally went through the advertisement, and could see no reason why the company had to recruit someone of that particular nationality. This is completely unacceptable,” he added. He went on to suspend the company’s work pass privileges to penalise the company.
“The company’s work pass privileges remain suspended until we are satisfied that remedial actions will be taken,” he told Parliament.
Tan Chuan Jin was finally confirmed as Minister of Manpower in 2014 but a year later in 2015, he was replaced by Lim Swee Say for some unknown reasons. Tan Chuan Jin was transferred to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
Lim then ran MOM for 3 years till 2018 before passing the baton to Josephine Teo. She in turn also ran MOM for 3 years till this year in May when Tan See Leng took over. She was moved to the Ministry of Communications and Information while Lim has nicely retired from politics.
It’s not known why Lim and Ms Teo did not address the issue of concentration of workers from a certain nationality when they were Manpower Ministers, and after a disastrous showing in the last election when the PAP government lost 2 GRCs.
In August last year, MOM announced that another 47 companies with suspected discriminatory hiring practices have been placed on its Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watchlist.
This is on top of the 1,000 firms in the watchlist as announced by Ms Teo in Parliament in early last year – an increase of about 400 more firms than what was on the watchlist a year ago.
Ms Teo previously said in Parliament, “Our objective is not just to penalise errant employers. We want them to improve. This is why we reached out to another 350 employers whose workforce profiles give us cause for concern, so that they take additional steps to strengthen local hiring. But it also means that having served notice to these employers, MOM will not hesitate to put them on the FCF watchlist if their workforce profiles deteriorate.”
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.
And after the PSP’s NCMP raising questions in parliament about CECA, the new Manpower Minister Tan See Leng now says MOM hopes not to see a concentration of workers from a certain source or nationality.