Arts groups hit by tightening of foreign employment

The arts, including the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, is the latest sector to be hit by the tightening of regulations for hiring foreigners. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA
The arts, including the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, is the latest sector to be hit by the tightening of regulations for hiring foreigners. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

First it was restaurants, then retail. Now the arts is the latest sector to be hit by the tightening of regulations for hiring foreigners.

Several non-profit arts companies are feeling the heat of across-the-board measures such as the recent hike in the qualifying salary for Employment Pass (EP) holders. They say there is not enough local talent in areas such as dance, music and musical theatre which require many years of specialised, intensive training.

Those affected by the Manpower Ministry's new rules include full-time contemporary dance group Arts Fission Company and professional orchestras like the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

Arts Fission, helmed by Cultural Medallion-recipient Angela Liong, has lost three full-time foreign dancers this year and may soon lose a fourth.

It is affected by a hike in the EP qualifying salary for young graduates from good educational institutions, from $3,000 to at least $3,300. Older applicants have to command higher salaries to qualify.Also worried is the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, which employs 82 full-time musicians, 17 of whom are foreigners employed here on work passes.

Its general manager Terence Ho said: "The new rules will mean either raising salaries (to make the grade for an Employment Pass) or paying more in S Pass levies, all of which will cost us more to sustain the orchestra."

The question of whether foreign manpower policies "can be refined to take into account the modest pay scales of skilled arts professionals and the freelance nature of work in these sectors" was raised by Nominated MP Janice Koh in Parliament on Tuesday.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin replied that the basic requirements for work pass application have to be "applied consistently across the board". "Fixed monthly salary is one of the key criteria used to determine a foreigner's eligibility for a work pass, taken as a proxy of a foreigner's quality and economic contribution," he said

However, he added his ministry recognises that the "arts scene is still relatively young". It gives "some flexibility for specific arts professionals on a case by case basis, when there is support given by the National Arts Council".