SMEs, NTUC welcome tighter MOM rules on foreign skilled labour

People sit along the promenade during lunch break at Raffles Place in Singapore on October 1, 2012. The number of foreign workers in Singapore rose by about 100,000 as of the end of June this year from a year ago despite measures to slow their influx, government data released October 1 showed. AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/GettyImages)

The business community on Monday welcomed the government’s new measures to prod employers to look more actively at Singaporeans for skilled jobs vacancies before turning to foreign labour.

In a statement, the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) said it was happy to see the Ministry of Manpower’s positive response to its feedback that Singaporeans be given "due consideration" before companies turn to hiring foreigners.
 
"We believe that the (new measures) would translate to greater transparency and more opportunities for local PMEs, and grow the Singaporean Core," said NTUC director for its PME unit, Patrick Tay.
 
Starting from August next year, all employers seeking to apply for employment passes (EPs) for job openings should first advertise specific details of the vacancies on an online government jobs portal run by the Workforce Development Agency.
 
As an add-on measure, the minimum monthly salary for new EP holders will be raised come next year to $3,300 from $3,000, said the MOM in a statement on Monday.
 
Those who fail to comply with the new rules on advertising will face "increased scrutiny" from the ministry, and also face work pass curtailment and rejection of their EP applications, it warned.
 
"(The new portal) will increase transparency as well as the level playing field for local PMEs as it will help to better match vacancies with jobseekers," added Tay.
 
Vice-president of the association of small and medium-sized enterprises (ASME) Kurt Wee gave the measure a 6.5 score out of 10 in projected effectiveness in the goal of achieving complete business opportunity for Singaporeans.
 
"By and large it creates a mandatory (additional) step in the hiring process, but in terms of abuses I think the toughest part is in enforcing it," he told Yahoo Singapore, while noting that this is but "one of the tools coming out of the box".
 
"You can't look at it alone… There's a whole set of policy implementations emerging over the past one or two years; and there are other aspects of the whole policy that companies will need to comply with," he added.
 
Wee also commented that this added step of mandatory advertising will not necessarily make the hiring process easier, given that it is already a costly environment for businesses.
 
However, he said, this is a step toward a better balance for Singapore's citizen workforce, which is "not a bad thing for our country".
 
"It's an important move because it will ensure that some of the foreign-owned companies make the effort to go through the process of trying to hire a local executive before hiring a foreign (one), which has been happening," he said.
 
Union leaders from the banking, services and electronics industries all lauded the changes too, calling it "a good start", but also calling on Singaporean workers to upgrade their knowledge and skills to remain competitive enough to take on the PME jobs.
 
For SIM University associate professor Randolph Tan, the new requirements may not necessarily present a disadvantage to hirers.
 
Pointing out that the jobs portal could show where there is a lack of Singaporean applicants for vacancies, Tan, a labour economist, said it could help all parties involved — employers, prospective employees and policymakers — to understand better the country's reliance on foreign manpower.
 
Citing the instance of a 14-day window period for a company to post a job vacancy on the portal, Tan said it is important that the new measures consider "the practical realities faced by hirers and job seekers in the labour market".
 
"The choice weighs the needs of both sides," he added.

Read more about the new measures here and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-jin's take on them here.

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