The recent announcement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) highlights the measures that MOM will take to improve the employment opportunities for Singaporeans. The ministry plans to make the work application process for foreigners more stringent both for foreigners and for companies who wish to employ them. The main aim of the change is to ensure that a company gives preference to Singapore citizens before considering any foreign applicant for a position in the company.

The Minister, Mr. Lim Swee Say, expressed sympathy for how Singaporeans feel, especially when they are a minority in many local companies in spite of being citizens of the country; certain companies and industry segments currently hire more foreigners than Singapore citizens.

This is not the first time the Ministry has made efforts to strengthen employment opportunities for the “Singaporean core” of the country. Previously, the Ministry had enhanced support for the Singaporean Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) so as to help them procure quality jobs and careers in the country.

SINGAPOREAN CORE

The term Singapore core has been used often in the context of the recent announcements by the MOM. The meaning of this term is a bit vague; it was first outlined in a White Paper in January, 2013 which states that “Singaporeans form the core of our society and the heart of the nation.” Further, the White Paper highlights, “To be a strong and cohesive society, we must have a strong Singaporean core.” This implies that merely being a citizen of Singapore does not merit inclusion in the core. In the true sense, the Singaporean core would also require adherence to Singaporean values and culture. Being a citizen of the country will be a prerequisite to forming a part of the Singaporean core. However, an individual’s norms, values, beliefs etc. shall also be a factor.

But recently, Labour chief Chan Chun Sing stated that the Singaporean core includes foreigners. This statement created some confusion. However, it appears that he did not intend to imply that the “core” includes foreigners but rather it was a signal from him that the workforce of Singapore shall not include only Singaporeans; the country will continue providing opportunities to foreigners with the “appropriate skill and talent” to work in Singapore.

COMMITEE OF SUPPLY 2016 – KEY HIGHLIGHTS

Keeping the employment options of Singaporeans as top priority, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on 8 April, 2016 at the Committee of Supply Debate put forth the following as their three main priorities:

1. Helping Singapore transform into a manpower-lean economy
2. To strengthen the “Singaporean core” and
3. To strengthen the Singapore workforce

To achieve the priority of strengthening the “Singaporean core”, the Ministry states new criteria for the application and grant of the Employment Pass.

EMPLOYMENT PASS

The Employment Pass is the primary Singapore work visa that the Ministry of Manpower issues to any foreign professional, manager, director etc. When you apply for an EP, it is valid for a period of 1-2 years and renewable after the expiry of the period. Once you get an EP, you can freely travel in and out of Singapore. There is no need to apply for the entry visa and one can easily conduct business activities.

CURRENT ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

Currently, the Ministry of Manpower provides certain criteria for the eligibility of the Employment Pass. You are eligible for an Employment Pass if:

1. You have a job offer in Singapore
2. You work in any managerial or executive position or specialise in a certain area
3. Your monthly earning is a minimum of $3,300
4. Your qualifications are acceptable. This means that you must have a good university degree, some special skills or a professional qualification.

ADDITIONAL CONDITIONS FOR EP

Pursuant to Mr. Lim’s speech, the Ministry will outline three “company related” criteria for the Employment Pass as follows:

1. The strength of the “Singaporean core” in the company
2. The ability of the company to strengthen the core in future
3. The relevance of the company on an overall basis to Singapore’s economy

Further, if hiring a foreigner, the company needs to show the need to hire a foreigner and why the company is not considering a local candidate for the particular position. Companies will need to follow these conditions when recruiting their team in addition to other basic requirements. If the company does not satisfy these additional conditions, the Ministry will consider them as “triple weak companies” and these companies will be scrutinized closely.

The main aim appears to be to identify and warn such companies which require a strengthening of the “Singaporean core” amongst their workforce.

The Minister further states that Singapore does not want to be anti-foreigner but wants to focus on the “triple weak companies” that are deepening the “local-foreign” divide in their Singapore workforce.

HOW WILL THIS BE DONE?

The Tripartite Alliance of Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) will play a key role in looking into weak “Singaporean core” companies and in turn ensure that such companies hire citizens of Singapore. TAFEP will help the Ministry of Manpower ensure that the companies will give preference to the citizens of Singapore in the hiring process. They will check that companies comply with the Ministry’s requirements. Additionally, companies having a very weak “Singaporean core” will be on the “watch list” and if they show no progress, it could result in the suspension of their work pass privileges.

WHY THE CHANGE?

The Ministry highlights the importance of building a strong “Singaporean core” which is one of the Ministry’s key priorities. Singaporeans are finding it difficult to get jobs and often the jobs that they are able get are not commensurate to their lifestyle and expectations. The tightening of the Employment Pass will provide additional opportunities to citizens of Singapore as companies will have to consider them first to fill specific positions in the company ahead of considering any foreigners. The expectation is that through these changes, competition for Singaporeans will reduce and it will be easier for them to get jobs when the new rules come into play.

CONCLUSION

The Ministry of Manpower – with support from TAFEP – realizes the difficulties the citizens of Singapore are facing in getting good jobs in their own country. To alleviate this situation, MOM is taking steps to ensure that companies prioritize Singaporeans before they hire foreign professionals, regular employees, or managers. It is hoped that these changes will provide a fair opportunity to citizens of Singapore. This, however, does not mean that companies will be discouraged from the hiring foreigners. Companies can still consider foreigners for positions where there is a requirement for a specific skill set or qualifications and suitable Singaporeans are not available to fill those positions.

The MOM’s intent is not merely to give preference to Singaporeans but to create a balance in every company. The triple weak companies are the only ones that will face strict scrutiny and they will have to abide by the directions of the Ministry and the TAFEP to attain a balance between their local and foreign workers. The Ministry wants to help Singaporeans be employable without having to face tough competition from a global workforce.