Many foreign employees let go recently as Govt focuses on saving Singaporeans' jobs: Josephine Teo

Foreign employment shrank by 60,000 from January to May 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The track record of the Government in protecting Singaporeans' jobs and livelihoods is "crystal clear", Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Friday (July 3), noting how its policies on employing foreign workers have been tightened over the years.

Foreign workers, she said, also serve as a buffer in uncertain times, when they are the first that employers might choose to shed when business conditions worsen.

This is due to initiatives such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises the wages of local workers and not foreign ones. Foreign employment shrank by 60,000 from January to May this year, she added.

"The Jobs Support Scheme is fulfilling its objective of saving jobs and protecting livelihoods. And as a result, when companies have to make a decision on whether to continue with their local employees or to continue with their foreign employees, I think it's quite clear to them where the support from the Government is, and they will make their decisions accordingly," said Mrs Teo.

"It's very clear that in recession times, foreign employment has served as a buffer. And... this is a result of the tremendous support that is being provided to companies for local employment."

Mrs Teo was speaking to the media after a visit to an SGUnited Jobs and Skills Fair at the Employment and Employability Institute in Jurong East. She disclosed that 12,000 people had been placed in new jobs under the initiative since March, even amid the uncertainty sparked by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Straits Times understands that the majority of them are Singaporeans and the rest are permanent residents.

Some opposition parties have spoken out on immigration issues during their election campaigns in the lead up to the general election on July 10.

In the first of two rounds of party political broadcasts on Thursday night, the Progress Singapore Party raised the issue of how many professionals, managers, executives and technicians had their jobs displaced by foreigners, while Peoples Voice called for S Passes to be frozen and Employment Passes to be reduced significantly.

Asked about such comments, Mrs Teo said that in this term of government, Employment Pass (EP) policies have been consistently tightened, with the salary criteria being raised.

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The minimum salary for foreign professionals to qualify for an EP was raised most recently to $3,900 per month for new applicants, up from $3,600, in May.

The quotas for S Passes, which is the maximum proportion of a firm's workers that can be S Pass holders, have also been tightened for various sectors such as services and construction, and the minimum salary to qualify for an S Pass has also been raised, she noted.

The roadmap to tightening is made clear to companies and they know it very well, she added.

"It would be useful for all political parties that wish to comment on this issue to study the facts of what we have been doing with regard to EP policy, S Pass policy," said Mrs Teo.

"I think the track record of the Government in this regard is crystal clear. And we welcome comments, we welcome people to put forward good proposals, but it has to be grounded on facts and an understanding of what has actually been happening."

Meanwhile, as the global pandemic threatens livelihoods, agencies in Singapore are focusing on matching people to jobs, finding them attachments with companies, and helping them acquire skills, said Mrs Teo.

But she noted that companies cannot be forced to hire.

The Government is also trying to incentivise hiring through schemes such as professional conversion programmes, and mid-career work attachments, she said.

Through company attachments, employers can assess trainees over time and hopefully offer them a position when business picks up.

"But right now to insist that the companies offer a permanent position I think is not a very realistic approach and I think reflects a certain lack of understanding of how the job markets work," said Mrs Teo.

And to those who complained about a shortage of permanent openings, she said: "Is it better to have a position for six months, nine months (or) 12 months, or to have no positions open at all?"

Meanwhile, the Government was looking at helping businesses transform and match them with Singaporeans with specialist skills who can help the companies grow, she said.

"This period of difficulty will not last forever. You can look at it as an opportunity, or you can look at it as a problem and choose not to do anything about it. We choose to look at it as an opportunity," she said.

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