Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis asked the Minister for Manpower (a) for organisations that have made job postings on the Government’s MyCareersFuture portal, whether they are required to notify the Ministry on the outcome of a job posting when it is subsequently delisted or when the role is filled; (b) if so, do the numbers suggest that ample efforts have been made to give fair consideration to local candidates; and (c) if not, why not.
Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis asked the Minister for Manpower (a) in the last five years, what is the number of instances where organisations have been found to have placed job advertisements without fairly considering applicants, violating the Fair Consideration Framework; and (b) what is the range of regulatory actions taken against such organisations.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Minister for Manpower whether there are plans to review the Employment Pass (EP) scheme to introduce a new dependency ratio ceiling for the bottom half of income earners among EP holders to encourage employers to enhance their Singaporean workforce by hiring and training more Singaporean talent and transferring skills from their foreign employees to the local workforce.
Dr Tan See Leng: Members of the House, I delivered a Ministerial Statement last month on “Strengthening Singapore’s Position as a Global Hub for Talent”. In the Statement, I outlined how we intend to strengthen Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent and addressed questions around the enhancement of our work pass framework, including the introduction of the Overseas Networks & Expertise (ONE) Pass.
Members have subsequently filed a number of Parliamentary Questions on three related issues. First, on how we ensure a complementary foreign workforce. Second, on our concurrent efforts to develop our local talent pipeline. And last but not least, on our efforts to safeguard fair consideration. I am taking them together, so that we can address the issues more holistically. I will address questions which are more technical in nature on specific policies separately.
First and foremost, ensuring a complementary foreign workforce. Members in this House generally acknowledge the need to attract top talent, as per the intent of the ONE Pass. Some Members have, however, raised questions on our broader foreign workforce policy.
At the Employment Pass (EP) level, we focus on ensuring that the EP holders are of good quality. And we do not impose quotas. To answer Mr Gerald Giam’s question on whether there are plans to review the EP framework to introduce a quota for the bottom half of income earners among EP holders, we have explained our rationale before – doing so will restrict our ability to compete and hold our companies back.
Our emphasis on quality was reinforced when MOM announced significant adjustments to our EP framework at this year’s Committee of Supply debate. First, to benchmark the EP qualifying salary to the top one-third of our local Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) workforce. And second, to introduce a new points-based Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) from 1 September 2023 to holistically evaluate EP applications for complementarity. Companies whose candidates cannot meet the EP qualifying salary or pass COMPASS will have to apply for an S Pass instead, where they will be subject to a quota.
This is a neater solution than what Mr Giam is suggesting. Compared to his suggestion where some EP holders are subjected to a quota while others are not, our current approach has the merit of keeping the positioning and criteria of each pass type clear, and overall work pass framework simpler for businesses.
Being open and connected and bringing in complementary global talent have helped to grow the overall pie for Singapore and more good job opportunities for locals.
Ms Jessica Tan asked if there is data to show that Singaporeans are succeeding in getting quality jobs in key sectors. At the same time, Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked about the number of EP holders in the Information and Communications sector, compared to other sectors. The Information and Communications sector has been a fast-growing one and is a sector that is facing talent shortages worldwide. In Singapore and elsewhere, employers have had to tap into the global marketplace for skills in shortages. In 2021, the ICT sector accounts for one-fifth of our EP stock. This has increased from one-sixth in 2016, thus reflecting the growing digital needs of our economy. The growth of the Information and Communications sector has also resulted in creation of more jobs for our locals – in the same timeframe, we saw strong growth in the number of local PMETs by 34,400. Median local wages in the sector also continue to increase. Therefore, we can see quite clearly that it is not a zero-sum game.
At the macro level, the data is also encouraging. There are more locals in higher-skilled PMET jobs. The proportion of resident workers in PMET jobs increased from 55% in 2016 to 62% in 2021. Across the board, local workers have experienced sustained wage growth. The median income of full-time employed residents has grown from $4,100 to $4,700 over the same period, an increase of 2.1% per annum in real terms. We have also seen improved job quality and better wages at the lower end, with the income of full-time employed residents at the 20th percentile increasing 2.7% per annum in real terms over the same period.
Mr Leong Mun Wai also filed a question in a subsequent Sitting specifically on local postgraduates, a group that is very likely to be taking up or even creating these high-quality roles. Their average unemployment rate has remained lower than that of all locals over the past five years.
We have managed to create good employment outcomes because we continue to be an attractive place for companies to do business. By combining and complementing local and foreign expertise, we can attract more investments and create many more good job and career choices for Singaporeans. Conversely, if companies do not have access to the complementary foreign manpower that they need, they may exit Singapore and take the jobs they create for Singaporeans with them. When it comes to foreign workforce policies, the way to advance is to strike a very careful and delicate balance.
Next, on developing our local talent pool and workforce. Local talent development already happens organically in tandem with economic growth. As businesses expand their investments here, they will need to find manpower to fill various roles and invest in training and upgrading their workers. By working in leading firms and alongside global talent, our local workers will also gain exposure to new ideas and best practices from around the world.
The Government and tripartite partners help to catalyse this process. We work with industry stakeholders to chart out transformation plans across 23 sectors through the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which include strategies to prepare our workers for higher value-added jobs in each sector.
We have also put in place a whole eco-system of programmes and schemes which businesses can tap on to prepare their workers for jobs of the future. For instance, we recommend that companies work with NTUC to set up Company Training Committees (CTCs) to help drive business transformation and training plans – the Government has set aside a $70 million budget for the NTUC CTC grant. Employers can also tap on subsidised industry-relevant training courses and reskilling programmes for mid-career workers. This includes Workforce Singapore (WSG)’s Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs).
Ms Mariam Jaafar1 filed a question for a later Sitting on how work experience and other certifications are considered aside from formal academic qualifications in eligibility requirements for CCPs. For some CCPs, academic requirements are put in place to ensure that the trainee is able to cope with the training, particularly where the training is very technical in nature. Applicants who do not meet the academic requirements may still be accepted into the programme if they have relevant alternative qualifications or work experience.
Ms Jessica Tan also asked about our initiatives to bring back top overseas Singaporean talent. Overseas Singaporeans, who have developed the ability to thrive in a global environment or who have gained industry-relevant experience and built extensive networks, can make significant contributions to our economy and pass on their knowledge to other Singaporean talent. Fundamentally, strengthening Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent which is brimming with exciting opportunities is self-reinforcing – it will help to bring back overseas Singaporeans who are keen to contribute and to be a part of this ecosystem. The Government actively engages overseas Singaporeans to keep them connected to home, so that they can make an informed decision about whether and when to return to Singapore. The Singapore Global Network (SGN) within the Economic Development Board (EDB) plays a key role in broadening and deepening our overseas Singaporean network through digital engagement, as well as partnerships with private, public and community organisations to deliver engagement initiatives, such as networking and community events. These engagements also allow overseas Singaporeans to serve as our valuable connectors and ambassadors in overseas markets, helping to spread Singapore’s good reputation. For returning Singaporeans, SGN and other agencies offer a variety of online resources to facilitate a smooth transition, including information on education, working and living, as well as relocating back home to Singapore. For example, MOE’s website contains information about school admissions for returning Singaporean children.
Lastly, on fair consideration. There is no place for discrimination in Singapore. MOM does not and will not tolerate unfair hiring practices, and employers who do not give locals a fair chance will face stiff penalties. The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) sets out requirements for all employers to consider local workers fairly for job opportunities. Work is now underway to enshrine this in legislation.
Mr Yip Hon Weng asked about the number of companies placed on the FCF watchlist. Firms are placed on the FCF watchlist if they have an exceptionally high share of foreign PMETs compared to their industry peers, or a high concentration of a single foreign nationality source. But, Members of the House, let me reiterate this. Firms placed on the FCF watchlist have not flouted any rules. Instead, what the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) does is to engage these companies to help them improve their workforce profiles. Since 2016, MOM has engaged a total of more than 1,700 employers under FCF.
One other limb of FCF is the job advertising requirement. Employers must first advertise on MyCareersFuture (MCF) and fairly consider all candidates, before submitting an EP or S Pass application. Mr Louis Chua asked whether companies need to notify MOM on the outcome of a job posting when it is subsequently delisted or when the role is filled. We do not require companies to do so, just like how they also do not need to do so for other job portals. We are conscious of the fact that we should not add administrative burden and make it onerous for employers to use MCF.
While the number of cases of discriminatory practices is small, MOM will continue to remain vigilant. Besides investigating complaints lodged with TAFEP, we will also use data analytics to identify suspicious cases for further investigation. And where employers are found to be discriminatory, MOM will not hesitate to take action against such employers. In response to Mr Louis Chua and Mr Yip Hon Weng’s questions, from 2017 to 2021, MOM took enforcement actions against approximately 300 companies. The regulatory actions included issuance of warning and being barred from hiring or renewing foreign workers.
Ms Hazel Poa also asked whether MOM intends to impose personal responsibility on human resource (HR) professionals in Singapore to comply with all manpower rules and regulations. I would like to remind Ms Poa that hiring decisions are not made by HR professionals alone. Senior management as well as line managers are also involved in these hiring decisions. Today, MOM can take action against culpable individuals and decision-makers for non-compliance of MOM’s rules and regulations. This includes HR professionals as well as business leaders. Employers, business leaders and HR professionals all play an important role in ensuring that their companies’ employment practices are fair and that they comply with regulations and the Tripartite Guidelines. All employers in Singapore must comply with not just the letter but with the spirit of our laws and regulations on fair hiring, and adopt good HR practices. The responsibility placed on employers as well as decision makers to uphold workplace fairness is also being discussed by the Tripartite Committee, which is deliberating the scope and design of workplace fairness legislation. Beyond enforcement, we must also enable and equip HR professionals to better support their companies.
Mr Speaker, Sir, in summary, we have a three-pronged strategy to support good employment outcomes: first, to safeguard the complementarity of our foreign workforce; second, to invest in developing our local workforce; and third, to ensure fair consideration for locals. All our Government policies, all of our schemes as well as programmes, work together to achieve one goal – to create opportunities for locals, at all and every level of the workforce. I thank Members for their questions and I assure them that MOM will continue to update our suite of policies regularly and in line with this objective.
Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song (Aljunied): Sir, since the Ministry is not imposing any quotas on Employment Pass holders, would it consider fixed-term EPs which cannot be renewed once they expire? This way employers can be incentivised to hire and train Singaporeans to fill those positions when the EP expires and there will be more knowledge and skills transferred to Singaporeans. This is a proposal that the Member for Aljunied GRC Leon Perera raised in October 2020.
Second, with the COMPASS framework, a candidate can attain a passing score even with zero points on the diversity criterion, which in any case is quite low because it looks only at the share of the candidates’ own nationality among the firm’s PMETs. Can MOM tighten the COMPASS framework to require the candidate to obtain at least 10 points for each of the four foundational criteria and a minimum of 50 points overall? This will ensure that companies give consideration to all the criteria and ensure a more level playing field for Singaporean PMETs during the hiring process.
Dr Tan See Leng: I thank Mr Giam for his two questions. First, on the Employment Pass, we have earlier on said that there is no fixed-term EP. In fact, the EP holders for these companies, they do not enjoy an automatic renewal for these EP holders. There is a certain validity and some of them are on a two-year term, some are on a one-year term, and subject to companies renewing them, subject to other criteria, these EPs are not automatically renewed. I think these are important points to take note of.
As far as the COMPASS framework is concerned, we are starting from 1 September 2023. We are reviewing and getting feedback still from the industry. I am looking at some of the criteria to see how we can nuance it to make sure that not only is it business-friendly, but that they can continue to help us achieve our desired end game of levelling up the opportunities for our Singaporeans.
Today, we are in a very tight labour market. Any introduction of any new policy to nuance this framework would be viewed as further tightening. So, I hope the Member understands the delicate situation and the fine balance that we are in.
We have today, very clear foundational criteria. Two of the characteristics pertain to the individual characteristics; and two, relate to the firm. I think it is sufficient for now to move ahead with this framework and let it run.
Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Just one question for the Minister. I refer to the Minister’s earlier reply, specifically where he mentioned that companies on the Fair Consideration Framework have not actually flouted any rules. In view of the Ministry’s newly-introduced Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS), where diversity is listed as a firm related attribute in considering EP applicants, how significant in the Minister’s opinion, would this new criterion be in reducing the number of companies on the FCF watchlist over time?
Dr Tan See Leng: I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that question. COMPASS will come into implementation on 1 September 2023. Within COMPASS, there are four criteria. As I have said earlier on, two of the criteria relate to the individual and two of the criteria relate to the firm.
Because it is almost a set of interlocking gear, whatever you move in one criterion will affect the rest. Our sense today is that, in the run-up to implementing COMPASS, and as we engaged more firms, we get feedback that this is a good framework which helps to differentiate our workforce. It also allows us to review from time to time, how we can be more responsive to the type of jobs and the type of talent our country and our economy needs. So, directionally, COMPASS is a move in the right direction because it allows us a very differentiated strategy.
Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis (Sengkang): Thank you, Speaker. I only have one supplementary question. I note form the Minister’s response on the use of data analytics. So, just wondering if Minister can share with us in terms of the data points that are being collected from companies which make an EP application, to show that they have failed to source for a local candidate after the 14-day or 28-day period, despite their best efforts. Then, the MOM’s side can also satisfy itself that this is truly the case for these companies.
Dr Tan See Leng: I thank Mr Louis Chua for his question. MOM would rely on multiple data points to allow us to triangulate. This will vary across the different sectors that we are dealing with.
One key point that we will consider, obviously, is how acutely short, in terms of the talent that is needed for one particular sector, whether it is in deep tech. And given the shortage, that is one data point that we would use to consider in terms of our data analytics.
There is no one-size-fits-all. So, today, if you look at the outcome, which is a very low long-term unemployment rate, for us to ensure that in a tight labour market, companies can continue to do well, to be able to have access to the manpower that they need to run the operations, we work very closely with them. In the process of working with them, we also identify certain characteristics and behaviour that allow us to to develop these analytics. I hope that gives Members a broad perspective of what we are doing.
Ministry of Manpower
3 October 2022