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23 September 2013

Fair Consideration for Singaporeans: An Important Step Forward

23 September 2013

Some of you would have read about the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) that was announced today. Many months of intense and wide-ranging consultations with various stakeholders have gone into developing the framework.

With it, we are sending a strong signal to all employers that they should consider Singaporeans fairly in filling available jobs.

Our objective is simple – to let Singaporeans benefit fairly from economic growth, by helping them get better jobs now and in the future. Singaporeans have the right to expect fair treatment during the recruitment process, and to be given the opportunity to develop their careers based on their own merits. At the same time, employers will need flexibility to meet their manpower needs to grow their businesses, so that they continue to provide good jobs for Singaporeans. 

Fair Consideration Framework



Fair Consideration Framework

We consulted Singaporeans at MOM’s Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) on Jobs earlier in June, as well as stakeholders such as unions and employer groups. The OSC sessions were particularly interesting, with varied views voiced. While participants recognised the need for foreigners to augment our local workforce, our straw poll indicated that majority of the participants felt that the playing field is somewhat unlevel between Singaporeans and foreigners for job opportunities.

They highlighted anecdotes of expedient hiring of foreign professionals, and of locals displaced.  They asked if there were ways to ensure that Singaporean fresh graduates were not disadvantaged when competing with foreign employees coming in at the Employment Pass (EP) level. Employers, on the other hand, shared that they faced real difficulties finding suitably qualified Singaporeans to work for them.

I hear you.

Not just the OSC participants, but the many Singaporeans I have met and who have written to me about the discrimination they have perceived at the workplace.

So, we have looked at the best way to address these issues while taking into account the concerns of the different stakeholders. Fair consideration is ultimately a mindset issue. Together, we must reaffirm our ideals of meritocracy and fair treatment. We must set clear expectations for our firms. And we must reinforce what are acceptable norms. This cannot happen overnight, but through constant persuasion and explanation. And through leading by example and holding the worst firms to account.  I think what we have come up with is an approach that works best for Singapore.  

Sending a signal to firms – Search for and consider qualified Singaporeans

An important aspect of the FCF is the mandatory advertising requirement for employers looking to hire an EP holder.  This may seem like a simple process, but what it really does is to serve a larger purpose of facilitating greater labour market transparency, by complementing existing job portals in the market. The advertising requirement cannot, and is not meant to, guarantee that Singaporeans will get the job which they desire. However, there will be more transparency.  Employers will now have to consider qualified Singaporeans available for the job, instead of taking the expedient route of hiring foreign professionals.

Over time, the data collected from the new jobs bank will also help the government improve its retraining and continuing education efforts. By having a central pool of job vacancies, the Government will be better able to discern existing skills gaps and also better facilitate job-matching. I hope firms will not see the new jobs bank as being created to be a hurdle for employers looking to hire EP holders. This idea was also raised by the OSC participants, NTUC and by my Parliamentary colleagues. I believe it is an important and meaningful step forward. 

Additional scrutiny for companies that need to improve

Our starting point, it must be said, is not one where we assume the worst in employers; we believe that it is more effective if we adopt a more targeted approach.  There are those firms for which additional scrutiny is needed.  For example, firms with a low proportion of Singaporeans at the PME level compared to others in their industry. There are also firms with repeated complaints of unfair HR practices. This is something which we will be actively monitoring to add teeth to the advertising requirement, since we are realistic that some recalcitrant firms may try to ‘go through the motions’.

We will start to identify and engage such firms probably by early next year, and shine a light on their hiring and staff development practices, even as we work towards the setting up of the new jobs bank next year. We may very well find legitimate reasons for a heavy reliance on foreigners, or we may not. Either way, we will want to find out why. We will examine their recruitment procedures, the basis on which they promote staff, and their plans to develop internal staff to take on higher roles or reduce reliance on EP holders, to identify areas they can improve on. We may interview Singaporeans on their current staff and those who have left the company. The firms found to have relatively poor employment practices and refuse to level up may have their work pass privileges curtailed. 

Expectations and Aspirations 

The FCF is a sensible approach given our local context, where we generate more jobs than there are Singaporeans to fill.  In other jurisdictions, the situation tends to be the reverse, and so the burden of proof on employers tends to be set at a higher bar.  In our conversations with Singaporeans, many of them understand this and highlighted that they are not asking for the Government to guarantee them the exact job which they want.  What they are seeking is a meritocracy that is fair. I agree and support this, which is why this is not a “Hire Singaporeans Only” policy.

In our various dialogues, I shared with fellow Singaporeans that our only priority is to ensure that our people and our nation’s interests are both met. The ultimate goal of economic growth is to benefit Singaporeans, by generating good jobs and opportunities here. We will help Singaporeans achieve their aspirations where we can. Many Singaporeans also understand that having others here to work with us is in our interest, even if they are different or they provide a healthy dose of competition.

We understand that employers may not always be able to find a suitable Singaporean candidate and may hire an EP holder. But, we do expect that they adopt fair HR practices. Singaporeans must continue to compete for jobs and advancement on their own merit – a value which we have always embraced.  What the FCF does is to level the playing field further for our people.

Let me put it this way. I expect employers to pay attention to the way they hire and develop their staff. They should focus their lenses on Singaporeans before they look to hiring EP holders. I would also want to see a more deliberate effort to develop a local pipeline of talent within the companies; many are already doing so. For Singaporeans, they can and should continue to compete and stay skilled and relevant amidst ever-changing demands in the job market. We will support this through our various Continuing Education and Training (CET) efforts.

Conclusion

There are clearly two pressing needs. Firstly, we need to keep our economy open and competitive, because that is the only way we can continue to provide good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans. Secondly, we need to ensure that this is done in a way that is fair and progressive. It need not be mutually exclusive and we should aim to achieve this. The FCF is unlikely to be a silver bullet and we will continue to ensure that our competing needs are met and met well.  I would like to thank those employers, employees and concerned Singaporeans who have provided us with their feedback and input during the various consultation platforms and engagement sessions. We have taken an important step forward together.


Acting Minister for Manpower
Tan Chuan-Jin

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