Rules on employing foreigners to be tightened

More opportunities for locals on Jobs Bank; qualifying salary for S Pass to be raised

Foreigners, numbering 1.1 million, make up about a third of Singapore's workforce of 3.4 million. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Rules on the hiring of foreigners are being tightened, in a move to give Singaporeans a fair shot at more and better jobs.

More companies will have to give locals a chance to apply for higher-paying jobs by advertising them on the national Jobs Bank for at least 14 days before they can hire a foreigner for the role.

This rule will be extended from July 1 to cover firms with at least 10 workers and for jobs paying under $15,000 a month, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday. Currently, it applies only to firms with at least 26 workers and for jobs paying under $12,000 a month.

The ministry did not provide the share of jobs posted on the Bank that eventually went to locals, but noted that the local share of net growth in professional, managerial, executive and technician employment has increased - to 78 per cent on average from 2015 to last year, up from 68 per cent on average in the previous three years.

Meanwhile, companies will have to pay semi-skilled foreigners more for them to come to Singapore under the S Pass scheme. For the first time in five years, the minimum qualifying salary will be raised. It will go up from $2,200 to $2,400, with the hike taking place over two tranches, on Jan 1 next year and one year after.

The moves are part of efforts to raise the quality - and productivity - of foreign manpower in Singapore while ensuring locals get access to good jobs, said Mr Lim.

This is especially critical as Singapore's manpower growth slows. From 2015 to last year, net job growth was under 10,000 a year on average, down from over 100,000 a year in the previous three years.

"Probably one of the most critical challenges is to ensure that slower growth of our Singapore workforce will not become the bottleneck in the future growth of our Singapore economy," Mr Lim said during the debate on his ministry's budget.

He outlined how it navigates the tightrope in considering the competing demands of companies and Singaporeans. "Employers say they cannot find enough locals who have the skills and are willing to do the jobs," he recounted. "To them, MOM is not pro-business enough.

"But on the other hand, we hear (on the) ground feedback that there are still too many foreigners, too much competition here for jobs."

Foreigners, numbering 1.1 million, make up about a third of Singapore's workforce of 3.4 million.

Mr Lim said foreign manpower policies have to be open enough to support business growth, yet tight enough to enhance local employment growth. "We are pro-business, but only to those who are pro-worker."

For instance, the ministry has over the past two years placed 500 companies that unfairly favour foreigners in hiring on its watchlist. Such firms have a harder time getting Employment Pass (EP) applications approved.

Eight MPs, including Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Mr Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC), had asked about efforts to get locals and foreigners here to work together.

Mr Lim said the Government tightened the criteria for EPs in 2014 and last year, resulting in slower growth in the number of EP holders each year, to an average of 3,000 a year in the past three years, down from a peak of 32,000 in 2011.

But, he added, in the "exceptional situation" where the EP applicants have skillsets needed in Singapore but are unable to meet the criteria, "we do allow sector agencies to exercise some flexibility, but only in a highly selective manner".

To encourage firms to develop their work-permit holders, the ministry is extending by four years the maximum period they can work in Singapore, with effect from May 1. This applies to workers from countries such as China, Bangladesh, India and Thailand.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline Rules on employing foreigners to be tightened. Subscribe