Less than a week after it was announced that the minimum qualifying salaries for Employment Pass (EP) holders will be increased, labour MP Patrick Tay (Pioneer) urged the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to consider further raising this minimum pay for two sectors: infocomm technology and professional services.
Professional services include law, accountancy and consultancy.
The two sectors generally have more companies on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices, Mr Tay, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said in Parliament yesterday .
This was among several suggestions he made on strengthening the Singaporean core, in his speech that started the parliamentary debate on the President's Address.
"The disruption brought about by Covid-19 and the resulting economic recession has surfaced ground concerns on the increased competition for jobs and employment. In this regard, we must uphold our pillar of meritocracy. There must be fairness and equal treatment and assessment of workers, which is also a fundamental International Labour Organisation commitment," he said.
Singapore has announced two increases this year in the salary threshold for EP holders. The second was announced last Thursday and will start from today for new applications, raising the threshold to $4,500, from $3,900.
For the first time, the ministry set a higher bar for the financial services sector, with the minimum qualifying salary for new applicants going up to $5,000 from Dec 1.
The changes affect pass renewals from May next year.
Mr Tay said that since the announcement, union leaders and professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have told him they worry employers would merely raise the salaries or repackage the compensation and benefits of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to meet the rules, and retain them.
Singaporean staff performing similar or the same jobs as the foreign PMETs may not get a similar pay hike, resulting in "serious parity issues", he added.
He pledged that unions would watch closely the actions of unionised companies, and encouraged workers in non-unionised companies to be union members to get better protection.
Strengthening the Singaporean core of PMETs must be addressed at all levels of the hierarchy, he said.
Some large companies with deep pockets, he noted, may hire more Singaporeans at junior levels to make the firm look better in terms of the proportion of locals it employs.
The hiring culture and mindsets need to be changed across the board, he added.
Among other things, Mr Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, also suggested the Government impose mandatory audits and penalties on companies that do not improve over time, such as removing preferential tax rates or not awarding them public sector contracts.
He stressed that NTUC is not advocating for closed-door policies. But with some 1,200 firms on the FCF watch list, it is clear that market failure exists in the current employment framework, he said.
"A healthy dose of market intervention is essential to ensure fair play," he said, adding that this also fosters a sense of belonging and identity among Singaporeans.
He was among more than 10 MPs who spoke on the hot button issue during yesterday's debate.
Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) urged the Government to require companies to publish the selection criteria for jobs, not just the job vacancy itself. In doing so, the criteria can be scrutinised.
Like Mr Tay, she suggested implementing a dependency ratio or quota for EP holders in companies, with different ceilings and salary levels for different sectors, and to make sure senior managers are accountable for the hiring of these EP holders.
Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) suggested the Government expand the Capability Transfer Programme to nudge companies to set targets for firms to transfer skills and knowledge from foreign to local workers. This programme subsidises the cost of bringing in trainers from abroad to equip local workers with skills and knowledge.
Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC), speaking from her personal experience in working for two foreign multinationals for almost 30 years, said working with foreigners can help Singaporeans develop themselves and scale up large projects.
This, however, hinges on fair employment practices, she stressed, adding that employers must also have clear development plans to grow the Singaporean core and build a pipeline of locals to fill senior roles.