SINGAPORE - Companies will not be allowed to practise wanton discrimination against local workers because in the current difficult economic climate, it is "all the more important" that Singaporeans are given fair opportunities to find meaningful work, said Second Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng in Parliament on Monday (Aug 31).
He told the House that officers of the Manpower Ministry are working "doubly hard" to ensure employers do not discriminate against local workers. They have also been stepping up their scrutiny and enforcement actions against those who blatantly practise it.
Dr Tan further said the Government will give Singaporean jobseekers a stronger boost "by working with businesses to give more serious consideration to Singaporeans when hiring, especially those who are wiling to adjust their expectations and adapt".
At the same time, businesses in Singapore are expected to strive harder in strengthening their Singaporean core, he said in his maiden speech in Parliament.
But he reassured employers that Singapore will not turn away global talents and investments, as skilled foreign workers allow them to remain globally competitive and provide learning opportunities for Singaporeans.
Dr Tan made these points as he pledged to support two key groups of workers - young graduates and mature workers - whom he said had a "growing concentration of disengaged Singaporeans".
Dr Tan, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry as well as Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was speaking on the first day of the debate on the President's Address.
The Covid-19 crisis, which he described as "unquestionably the worst crisis in a generation", has accelerated changes to Singapore's economy, and highlighted the need to be flexible in pivoting to new areas of opportunity and different ways of operating, he said.
"We must always remember that our workers are the heart of our economy, and we must help our workforce to emerge stronger from this crisis," he said, reiterating the Government's promise to help every worker, even if not every job can be saved.
Mature workers are "near and dear" to him, Dr Tan said, as at 55, he is also in their age group. "Our mature workers in their 40s and 50s have contributed a good part of their lives to our economy so far."
Most of them continue to be willing and able to contribute to the economy for many more years to come, he noted.
But even before the pandemic struck, many were already worrying about their job security, and adapting to the way technology has transformed their work.
Mature workers possess "a significant treasure of experiential knowledge and practice wisdom that cannot be replaced by or gleaned from academic pursuits or qualifications", he said.
As they strive to prepare themselves for new job roles, employers should also consider them fairly and offer them good opportunities for improvement and progression, he added.
"Meritocracy is a foundational principle of Singapore society, and we must demonstrate this to the world by taking a stand against employers that discriminate against workers based on nationality, age, gender or other factors that are irrelevant to the job."
As for young graduates, Dr Tan said he has received feedback that they are worried about getting a job in the current labour market, and how their aspirations and career trajectories may be affected.
"We are working very hard to keep our young workers engaged and inspired as they embark on their journeys into the working world amidst this crisis.
"I wish to assure our young Singaporeans that although you may seem to have been dealt a difficult starting hand, we will do all we can to ensure that your generation will still flourish and fulfil your potential."
He also urged all job seekers, regardless of age and background, to be realistic in their expectations amid the difficult economic climate, and keep an open mind about the available opportunities.
Outlining the Government's support for employers, he said it is crucial to develop a strong Singapore core of enterprises that can grow and compete internationally.
To succeed, Singapore must find new ways to innovate and transform, he added.
"Not just to incubate these new ideas, but developing generations of Singaporeans that can put those ideas into action and commercialise them with strong intellectual property protection and validation by our government agencies."