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When the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) introduced its Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) in 2013, the SDP had predicted that the policy would not be effective.
Five years hence, Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say revealed in Parliament this week that 500 companies in Singapore have been placed on an FCF watchlist for having “pre-conceived ideas that local PMETs are either unable or unwilling to do the job”. This is a 100 percent increase from last year.
The FCF requires employers to advertise PMET job vacancies for 14 days on the Jobs Bank before submitting applications for Employment Passes.
The Minister told Parliament that the companies put on the watchlist did not give Singaporeans fair consideration for employment before going ahead and hiring foreigners.
In launching the scheme, the MOM said that it “expects all firms to consider Singaporeans fairly for jobs, based on merit. All firms are strongly encouraged to advertise their job vacancies and must ensure that jobs advertised are open to Singaporeans.”
Then-Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin added: “What we are doing is to put in place measures to nudge employers to give Singaporeans – especially our young graduates and PMEs – a fair chance at both job and development opportunities.”
What do words like “expects”, “consider”, “strongly encourage” and “nudge” even mean? Why would businesses feel compelled to adhere to such a wishy-washy request, backed up by weak penalties, when the pull of lower wages that comes with hiring foreigners is so much greater?
Moreover, many foreigners already working in Singapore have the tendency to recruit workers of their own nationality.
If the FCF is an effective tool to eradicate such discrimination, why is there a 100 percent uptick in the number of businesses flouting it? Singaporeans are being discriminated against in our own country and this is unacceptable.
Before the advent of the FCF, the SDP had proposed the Singaporeans First policy which requires all foreigners wishing to work in Singapore to apply and furnish details of their qualifications, skills, experience, etc.
The applicants are then ranked on a points-based system and only those who meet the cut-off point-level will go into a pool from which employers can hire. Employers can only hire from this pool after they have demonstrated that they cannot find a local to fill the position.
The SDP’s plan is also supported by our minimum wage policy and fair wage policy which will extend to foreign workers.
The two-pronged approach will eliminate the incentive for companies to hire foreigners first either because of lower wages or nationality bias. The people who benefit from such an approach are Singaporeans. (For details of this alternative policy, please read Building A People: Sound Policies For A Secure Future.)
The SDP had also taken issue with the fact that the FCF does not apply to the hiring of employees with salaries of $12,000 and more.
In our alternative plan, the SDP ensures that all Singaporeans regardless of salary levels compete fairly with foreigners.
On this point, Minister Lim Swee Say announced in Parliament on Monday that the FCF will be amended to cover PMETs with salaries of more than $12,000 but less than $15,000.
While still putting higher-income earners at a disadvantage, this is nevertheless a step in the right direction. The SDP is gratified that the PAP has followed our lead on this point. However, it needs to do more – much more – to ensure a level playing field in the job market between Singaporeans and foreigners.