Labour MP Patrick Tay urges MOM to further protect Singaporean PMEs

The main skyline of the Central Business District and Marina Bay Sands area in Singapore. (Photo: Getty Images)
The main skyline of the Central Business District and Marina Bay Sands area in Singapore. (Photo: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Labour MP Patrick Tay on Monday (31 August) urged the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to do more to protect Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

“Strengthening the Singaporean core is an important tenet in nation-building. It is important during good times when our economy is growing rapidly and doubly important during bad times such as during this recession where we see numerous layoffs and where many Singaporeans, especially PMEs, are impacted,” said Tay.

Speaking during the debate on the President’s Address, Tay, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said that at least 20 PMEs have written to him in the past month, “sharing with me their loss of opportunities at taking on jobs and at our workplaces, to the extent of feeling discriminated against.”

Tay said, “I cannot help but wonder if, as a result of unchecked conscious and unconscious bias, there may still be instances of nationality bias in hiring and promotion and in today’s context, retrenchments?

“The reality is, left unchecked, this would exacerbate the glass-ceiling effect and issues relating to job opportunity for our Singaporean PMEs,” added Tay, who is MP for Pioneer SMC.

Last week, MOM made several policy announcements including increasing the monthly salary threshold for foreign PMEs holding Employment Passes (EP) to $4,500. The ministry also said that it will for the first time set higher qualifying salaries for a specific sector, with the monthly salary threshold for EP applicants in the financial services sector raised to at least $5,000 from 1 December.

The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) job advertising requirement will also be extended to S Pass applications from 1 October.

Strengthening the Singaporean Core

In his Parliament speech on Monday, Tay gave some suggestions on how to strengthen the Singaporean core, including raising the bar for sectors on MOM’s watchlist.

He said, “While we raise the qualifying salary of EP holders, I am glad that MOM has put in a place a differentiation of the EP qualifying salaries for sectors such as the financial services sector. In the same vein, MOM should also consider raising the bar for sectors such as Infocomm Technology and Professional Services, where there are generally more companies on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist.”

Tay also said union leaders and PMEs have raised concerns that some employers may raise salaries or repackage the compensation and benefits of their foreign PME staff to keep within the boundaries of the rules. Meanwhile, Singaporean PMEs may not get a similar pay hike resulting in parity issues. The unions will closely watch the actions of employers, said Tay.

He also urged stricter enforcement against companies that treat the FCF as “mere window dressing”. The enforcement can come in the form of revealing or publishing the MOM’s watchlist “so that the potential reputational loss would serve as a deterrence,” he suggested.

“Similarly, we can also impose mandatory audits and penalties such as removing preferential tax and other benefits including curtailing the award of public sector contracts on companies with discriminatory hiring practices and high proportion of grievance cases if no improvement is made within a stipulated period of time,” he added.

Separately, West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng suggested setting up a National Human Resource Committee to strengthen the Singaporean core. In his speech, Ang recounted feeling “like a foreigner in my own country” when he visited Changi Business Park prior to the pandemic.

Ang suggested that the NHRC can work with firms to share best practices for developing a Singaporean core at the middle and top management levels.

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