Fair consideration job framework for locals should be balanced, say industry players
- POSTED: 21 Sep 2013 16:42
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New employment rules that could require firms here to explore more avenues to hire locals before foreigners are expected to be announced soon.
SINGAPORE: New employment rules that could require firms here to explore more avenues to hire locals before foreigners are expected to be announced soon.
Union leaders said the framework will aim to ensure fair consideration is given to Singaporeans first.
Industry players Channel NewsAsia spoke with are hoping for fair and sensible rules that will not make it any more onerous for companies to find talent.
Foreigners now make up a third of Singapore's total workforce and there has been growing concern that employers are by-passing locals and hiring foreigners instead.
A spokesperson from the Manpower Ministry said while that a sizeable number of participants at one of its Our Singapore Conversation session felt that the playing field is somewhat uneven between Singaporeans and foreigners for job opportunities, most recognised the need for foreigners to augment our local workforce.
The ministry added some participants also felt that there's a need to ensure that Singaporean fresh graduates are not disadvantaged when competing with foreigners at the Professional, Manager and Executive (PME) level.
The labour movement too has its concerns.
Patrick Tay, director of legal services departments and PME Unit at the National Trades Union Congress, said: "I've met many of these local PMEs in various sectors and they have shared with me personally their stories. One particular story is where this IT professional - highly qualified, great credentials - working in quite a large company, sharing with me about his grievance. He was given a golden handshake and asked to leave the company. Subsequently after he left the company, his fellow ex-colleagues shared that a foreigner was hired to take over his position.
"There are also cases where in terms of hiring practices, certain hiring managers tend to prefer their own kind in the sense that certain hiring managers belonging to certain nationalities may hire people from the same nationality."
It is hoped that a Fair Consideration framework will address this.
Mr Tay said there has to be some tough policy regulation enforced on the recalcitrant few.
Industry players said it could take the form of advertising such as making it mandatory for employers to advertise vacancies for a stipulated time-frame, to give locals enough time to apply for the job.
Another way is to restrict future work permits should an employer fail to prove that he has done due diligence in trying to fill the job post with a local.
Employers though cautioned that this should not make the hiring process more onerous in an already tight labour market.
"The thing that I'm going to be interested to see around the regulation is whether the focus on hiring the best person for the job or is the focus on hiring a Singaporean in the first instance?" said Toby Fowlston, managing director at Robert Walters Singapore.
He added: "If the focus is hiring a Singaporean, which everybody here is focused on securing and attracting local talent, there will obviously be individuals who are actually technically and may be better equipped at doing the job that will fall out of that bracket.
"And if the process of hiring takes too long, these individuals will obviously end up sourcing and finding work with other companies."
Vice-President of the Singapore National Employers' Federation, Bob Tan said the most important thing is that the framework will not constrain the employer from getting the best people on board.
Mr Tan said: "A lot of it depends on how it is going be implemented. I think it is right and it is good that employers look towards Singaporean workers for their business. They (Singaporean workers) can look longer term compared to an overseas worker who may want to go home for various reasons etc. We do have one-third of our working population are foreigners and we just don't want to create a situation whereby the companies cannot function."
However, the reality is that sometimes, there are not enough local talent to fill up certain positions.
Small firms like local electronics design company D'Crypt are already struggling with tighter restrictions in foreign worker quotas as well as higher salary caps for skilled foreigners.
D'Crypt's chief operating officer Chew Hwee Boon said: "Even with this shortlisting of putting Singaporeans first, we can't find enough of local Singaporeans who want to do R&D work, who want to do technical work and we have no choice but to turn to foreigners."
One suggestion is for micro-firms or sectors where niche skills are required, be exempted from the labour market test.
Mr Tay suggested: "The key principle behind this labour market test is to in a way not put a too onerous, exacting demand on employers but at least do the necessary due diligence, a baseline due diligence that you hire locals first. A baseline kind of requirement for the majority.
"But in instances where after this baseline requirement, there may be for example, still further complaints, a heavy hand may need to come in. I don't think we are shunning away all foreign investments or all foreign PMEs, but in essence to draw a balance, to set the baseline requirement, but to really dish out a heavy hand on those recalcitrant minority."
Another way to retain the Singapore core in the workforce is to ensure that skills and expertise from foreign employees are transferred to Singaporeans through mentorship schemes.
Erman Tan, president of Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: "I think having foreign talent coming here without a non-solid Singaporeans core isn't going to help the country as a whole. We have to have an inclusive approach.
“Besides having an open economy and accepting foreign talent in our country, we have to ensure the locals can grow with it so we can support the foreign talent to grow together."
Singaporeans welcome such a framework in place because of the sheer number of foreigners working here. Statistics from the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices show that about half of the number of complaints it receives have got to do with discrimination, relating to nationalities.