Balance between local and foreign workers a "tricky issue": Tan Chuan-Jin

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin (right) speaking with Mr Lim Poh Kwee, 80 (left) and his wife Madam Ang Soh Hiok, 74 (2nd from left) at a coffeshop during his walkabout at Pasir Ris East. Mr Tan sought to explain the tension between keeping Si
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin (right) speaking with Mr Lim Poh Kwee, 80 (left) and his wife Madam Ang Soh Hiok, 74 (2nd from left) at a coffeshop during his walkabout at Pasir Ris East. Mr Tan sought to explain the tension between keeping Singapore open to foreign talent, and ensuring locals are given fair consideration in jobs, at a community dialogue in Pasir Ris on Sunday, Feb 16, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin sought to explain the tension between keeping Singapore open to foreign talent, and ensuring locals are given fair consideration in jobs, at a community dialogue in Pasir Ris on Sunday.

His priority is to look after Singaporeans, he said, but the balance between local and foreign workers is a "tricky issue" and Singapore cannot shut its doors to foreigners.

"If we swing too far the other way... some of these companies might find it better off to operate somewhere else," he said, adding that it will then lead to job losses for locals.

The minister was responding to a question from resident Benjamin Wan, 49, who felt that he was victimised twice by bosses who preferred foreigners instead of locals.

"We have been coming up with frameworks after frameworks, but there is no enforcement... and Singaporeans have been encountering job discrimination," said Mr Wan, who did not reveal his current occupation.

The Government announced last September a Fair Consideration Framework, under which firms with more than 25 employees must prove they tried to hire Singaporeans first before they are allowed to recruit foreign professionals.

Set to begin in August, these companies must advertise professional jobs that pay less than $12,000 a month on a government-run jobs bank.

Another resident, engineering firm boss Leong Weng Kuan, brought up how the Government has been restricting the growth of work permit holder numbers in recent years, and called for relaxations.

"Singaporeans do not want to do these jobs and by restricting these work permit numbers, it creates problems for local SMEs," Mr Leong added.

Responding, Mr Tan said that work permit holder numbers are still increasing, but "the rate of growth has to slow down".

Besides questions on jobs, Mr Tan also fielded questions on volunteerism, the possibility of staging more community bonding programmes and public transport issues.