'Don't hire, promote own kind at expense of S'poreans'

Ewen Boey

The government has warned foreign managers that they should not marginalise qualified local candidates in order to hire and promote their own kind.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin announced on Monday new guidelines targeting discriminatory practices against Singaporeans such as job advertisements indicating that foreigners are preferred and the preferential hiring of foreigners over suitable Singaporeans.

These new guidelines were drawn up in response to the high number of cases -- 51 in the first nine months of this year -- of unfair treatment based on nationality lodged with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep), reported The Straits Times.

Here are three case studies on why Singaporeans are lodging complaints of preferential treatment:





  • Case study 1: Foreigners hire fellow countrymen - A Singaporean complains that a foreign manager in her IT firm prefers his own countrymen to qualified Singaporeans. Management tells Tafep that it had trouble finding suitable local candidates, but later admits some departments have seen an increased representation from a particular country in recent years. Company then agrees to hire and develop Singaporeans as its workforce core.
  • Case study 2: Discriminatory practices by an employment agency - An employment agency specialising in foreign recruitment raves about why foreign workers are better than Singaporeans in an e-mail to clients. The agency corrects its e-mail and pledges not to do so again after Tafep steps in. Manager involved is counselled and makes a public apology while staff are sent for relevant training. Manpower Ministry issues a written warning to the agency after conducting its own investigations.
  • Case study 3: Over-reliance on foreigners - A chief executive was swamped by complaints from his local staff about the company hiring too many foreigners from a certain country. CEO was surprised of this practice as he was not aware of it. Many employees left for another company which hired less foreigners.

Tan, who was speaking at a tripartism forum, stressed that while foreigners are still welcome to work in Singapore, the core of a company's workforce must remain Singaporean.

The Member of Parliament for Marine Parade group representation constituency said that even though the government is tightening its grip on importing foreign labour, employers on the ground must still be watchful over their actions as many Singaporeans have expressed displeasure over discriminatory practices in their workplace.

“Let me emphasise that discriminatory practices have no place in Singapore,” he said. He added that companies have a responsibility “to attract, recruit and develop Singaporeans so that Singaporeans remain at the core of our workforce”.

When asked why laws were not drawn to fight discrimination, Tan replied that this issue isn’t straightforward. He said that employers’ mindsets must be changed to tackle the problem, and it’s better done through moral suasion.

He added that anti-discrimination laws would reduce flexibility in the labour market, which is a strength for Singapore, the same paper reported.

Tan, however, assured that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will act against employers who refuse to eliminate discrimination.

MOM will work with consult employers to resolve issues, but if that doesn’t work, the ministry will have to use other methods, such as slapping demerit points on employment agencies.

In addition, Tafep will hold workshops to educate employers and ease them into the new guidelines.

Labour chief Lim Swee Say and employers’ group chief Stephen Lee both support the new guidelines.

Lee, president of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said that firms having Singaporeans as their workforce core enforces their competitiveness in the long-term as foreign workers tend to be more mobile.

He also pointed that Singapore’s foreign worker cap, which stands at one-third of the three-million-strong workforce, is one of the world’s highest. Lee also said that companies must nurture Singaporeans as their core.

“If you replace your core with all foreigners because of short-term expediency, then I start to question the viability of the company in the long run,” Lee said.

Lim, NTUC secretary-general, said that employers need to change their mindsets. Some employers don’t think Singaporeans are willing to take on low-level jobs, while not possessing the ability to take on high-skilled ones.

Many Singaporeans also complain that employers are not willing to pay better for low-level jobs, while not doing enough to help them move up to higher-level ones.