SINGAPORE - Rules for hiring foreign workers will be tightened as part of efforts to assure Singaporeans that they are competing on a level playing field.
From May this year, the minimum salary for foreign professionals to qualify for an Employment Pass (EP) will be raised to $3,900 per month, up from $3,600.
"This increase is in line with improving wages of fresh graduates of local autonomous universities," said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at the debate of her ministry's budget on Tuesday (March 3).
The salary criteria for older and more experienced EP candidates will also be increased - for example, an EP applicant in his early 40s will need to earn around double the new minimum qualifying salary of $3,900.
"This is only fair, considering the skill sets he or she is expected to have," Mrs Teo said. "It helps to ensure a level playing field for experienced local mid-career PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians)."
The new salary requirement will only take effect for EP renewals from May 1, 2021, "to moderate the impact on businesses", she added. The minimum EP-qualifying salary was last raised in 2017 from $3,300 to $3,600 a month.
In addition, the "local qualifying salary" or the minimum salary a local worker must earn to count towards a firm's quota for hiring foreigners on work permits and S Passes will be raised from $1,300 to $1,400. This will take effect in July.
It was last raised from $1,200 in July last year, and has been regularly updated "to ensure that it keeps pace with rising local wages at the local end", Mrs Teo said.
She noted that most employers of foreign workers are not affected because they do not have local workers earning below $1,400, but those who are should receive some relief from the extension of the Wage Credit Scheme.
Mrs Teo said that employers should continue to ensure that they have fair and merit-based pay practices in line with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.
She said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is aware of firms that only raise salaries of EP holders to meet new salary criteria while freezing salaries of local workers, even if the locals are better workers.
Such employers risk having their work-pass privileges curtailed by MOM, and also undermine efforts to retain local employees, Mrs Teo cautioned.
FAIR HIRING CONSIDERATION
Mrs Teo also announced that MOM will be stepping up measures to ensure fair hiring consideration in the workplace.
Under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), which was updated in January with stiffer penalties for discriminatory hiring practices - particularly those against Singaporeans - employers are required to advertise job openings on national jobs portal MyCareersFuture.sg before submitting EP applications.
On Tuesday, Mrs Teo announced that the advertising requirement will be expanded to include jobs paying up to $20,000 per month, an increase from the current $15,000. This takes effect from May.
"Positions that are more senior remain exempted as they are more likely to be market-sensitive," Mrs Teo said.
She highlighted that firms should not take the advertising requirement as a paper exercise, adding that MOM has started to use data analytics to scrutinise EP applications and actively follow up on leads provided by whistle-blowers.
Addressing queries from MPs, including Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), on an update of MOM's efforts to identify employers suspected of unfair hiring, Mrs Teo said about 1,000 firms have been put on the FCF watch list, up from the previous update of 600 firms last year.
Since the watch list was introduced in 2016, a total of 3,000 EP applications have been rejected or withheld by MOM, or withdrawn by employers, while firms under the FCF watch list have hired more than 4,400 Singaporean PMETs, she noted.
"Our objective is not just to penalise errant employers. We want them to improve," Mrs Teo said, adding that the ministry has contacted another 350 employers whose workforce profiles give MOM "cause for concern", so that these employers take steps to strengthen local hiring.
But the ministry will not hesitate to put these firms on the watch list if their workforce profiles deteriorate, she said.
Mrs Teo added that MOM has also taken action against 18 more firms which have been found to violate the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, further to five recalcitrant firms announced in January.
In one case, a 51-year-old applicant for a receptionist role was told she was "too old", and the ministry found that the firm had a policy where it invited only candidates who were younger than 45, female and Chinese.
Under the updated FCF, employers that violate the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices will be barred from hiring new foreign workers or renewing existing ones for a minimum of 12 months, up to a maximum of 24 months.
Employers and key personnel who falsely declared that they have adhered to fair consideration practices will also be prosecuted. Those found guilty can be jailed up to two years, fined up to $20,000, or both.