Unions, employers back employment move but some worry about impact

People walking along Orchard Road at the junction of Grange Road. Employer groups and unions support the move to ensure fair employment for locals, saying the requirement to advertise a vacancy locally before hiring foreign professionals is reasonabl
People walking along Orchard Road at the junction of Grange Road. Employer groups and unions support the move to ensure fair employment for locals, saying the requirement to advertise a vacancy locally before hiring foreign professionals is reasonable. -- ST FILE PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Employer groups and unions support the move to ensure fair employment for locals, saying the requirement to advertise a vacancy locally before hiring foreign professionals is reasonable.

But some industry groups had worries, such as that Singapore's competitive edge may suffer if foreigners feel unwelcome.

"We need to be cautious that it does not create a sense of uncertainty among foreigners who may feel discouraged about working in Singapore," said Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) board member Jonathan Asherson.

The new rule for hiring foreigners on Employment Passes (EPs), unveiled yesterday by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), takes effect next August.

The MOM also said it will keep an eye on companies with relatively few Singaporeans at the professional, managerial and executive (PME) level, or those with repeated complaints of unfair hiring.

The National Trades Union Congress cheered the moves.

It has been calling for labour market testing - making companies consider locals first - since August 2011, and earlier this month, its chief Lim Swee Say mentioned the idea of a jobs bank.

But its call for a quota on EP holders, similar to those for other work passes, has not been accepted. It is "not letting go" of the idea yet, its director for legal services and PME Unit Patrick Tay said yesterday, but would monitor how well the new MOM framework works.

Employers also welcomed the move, saying they prefer hiring Singaporeans as there is more stability when work passes are not needed and they understand the local culture as well.

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said the job advertisement rule "should neither delay nor hinder the hiring process".

It is not an added burden, said Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan. "We already need to advertise anyway."

Industry associations, however, sounded more cautious.

Both the SICC and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) said their members already try their best to hire Singaporeans.

But if Singaporeans continue to remain elusive, the new job advertisement rule could put a strain on businesses, said SCCCI president Thomas Chua.

"In a tight labour market, 14 days is a considerably long wait, especially for SMEs with a lean workforce," he said, referring to small and medium-sized enterprises.

But the Association of SMEs president Chan Chong Beng noted that the smallest firms will be spared. Those with 25 and fewer employees will not have to advertise in the new jobs bank.

The SNEF, however, said it would encourage small firms to do so. But it wants an exemption for jobs with skills which are scarce in Singapore.

And some were sceptical of the move's eventual impact. Said human resource consultant Martin Gabriel of HRMatters21: "The new rule does not require companies to justify why they reject local applicants, so they may just go through the motion."

The Singapore Democratic Party also welcomed the move, saying it had proposed similar ideas before. Earlier this year, it said companies should submit evidence of job advertisements and a log of local interviewees before hiring foreigners.

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