SINGAPORE - Employers can help to push back against "negative forces" that lead to anxieties among locals about losing out to foreigners, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Thursday (Nov 21).
They can do this by practising fair hiring and advancement, she told representatives from about 50 firms at an American Chamber of Commerce human capital conference.
"It may be expedient to recruit from familiar sources, but please do not keep jobs to closed circles of 'friends'. Perceptions about competence, or the lack thereof, can also be toxic," she said at the closed-door event. A copy of her speech was released by the Manpower Ministry on Friday.
Mrs Teo said that around the world, anxieties about being overtaken by "outsiders" have given rise to perverse outcomes, and at workplaces here, there is heightened sensitivity towards being treated fairly and having local norms respected.
"As employers, you can help to push back the negative forces that stoke such fears. The lived experiences of your employees can either be a strong defence against irrationality, or they can reinforce these beliefs," she said.
In any case, maintaining a culturally diverse workforce in a multicultural city and region, and drawing from multiple sources of manpower - particularly local workers - helps businesses mitigate risks, she added.
Mrs Teo said that as a labour MP in 2008, she called on the Government to ensure that most of the new jobs created, as the economy recovered from the global financial crisis, would go to Singaporeans.
This was to "register the point that the primary responsibility of any government must be the well-being of its people, and that includes having good jobs," she said.
As a minister now, she often receives complaints from businesses that Singapore's rules on hiring foreign manpower are too tight, which limits their ability to grow. They worry that Singaporeans are not hungry and are choosy about jobs.
On the other hand, locals sometimes feel that capable Singaporeans are passed over for good jobs. They are often concerned that the rules are too lax.
With the economy requiring 3.4 million workers but a local workforce of just 2.3 million, Singapore needs to remain open to foreigners to fill the surplus of jobs, Mrs Teo said.
Allowing companies access to global expertise also makes the Republic attractive to companies and helps to anchor good jobs here for Singaporeans, including those who may otherwise choose to work abroad, she said.
In most sectors, locals comprise 70 per cent to 80 per cent of all professionals, managers and executives, she said.
There are rules in place to ensure fairness. The Fair Consideration Framework requires employers with at least 10 staff to advertise jobs paying under $15,000 a month on the national Jobs Bank, before applying for an employment pass.
But some employers treat this as a paper exercise and fail to consider good local applicants, said Mrs Teo.
The ministry places such employers, and others who discriminate against Singaporeans, on the Fair Consideration Framework watchlist. Since 2016, some 600 employers have been placed on the list and 2,300 employment pass applications were held back. As a result, more than 3,800 Singaporean professionals, managers, executive and technicians were hired.
Mrs Teo said control measures will be updated from time to time to ensure fairness and to safeguard local employment outcomes. Progressive employers are also recognised and there are government programmes to help Singaporeans acquire skills to move into new jobs.
"Help us keep Singapore open by ensuring that your teams are diverse and by paying attention to fairness at work," said Mrs Teo, addressing employers.
"As good corporate citizens, invest in human capital development to sustain your growth in Singapore."