Singapore's foreign worker policies: Manpower Minister tackles Parliamentary questions

The discussion covered support for returning Singaporeans to transition back to Singapore; getting the entire management team to comply with regulations such as the Fair Consideration Framework, and more.

Speaking in Parliament on Monday (3 October 2022), Singapore's Manpower Minister Dr. Tan See Leng addressed a series of questions (see below) raised by Members of Parliament (MP), regarding the nation's foreign worker policies. As a whole, these questions covered three issues:

  1. how Singapore is ensuring a complementary foreign workforce,
  2. concurrent efforts to develop the local talent pipeline, and
  3. efforts to safeguard fair consideration.

Ensuring a complementary foreign workforce

On this, one of the questions raised was whether there are plans to review the Employment Pass framework to introduce a quota for the bottom half of income earners among EP holders. In response, Minister Tan said: "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 the Ministry of Manpower (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 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, the minister added, citing it as a "neater solution".

Next, the minister was asked if there was data to show that Singaporeans are succeeding in getting quality jobs in key sectors, as well as for the number of EP holders in the information & communications sector compared to other sectors. To these, he replied: "The ICT sector has been a fast-growing one, and is a sector that faces talent shortages worldwide.

"In Singapore and elsewhere, employers have had to tap into the global marketplace for skills in shortage. In 2021, the ICT sector accounts for one-fifth, about 20%, of our EP stock. This has increased from one-sixth in 2016, thus reflecting the growing digital needs of our economy."

The minister added that the growth of the ICT sector has also resulted in the creation of more jobs for locals – in the same timeframe, Singapore 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 this is not a zero-sum game," he pointed out.

The minister also shared the following data:

  • More locals are 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 S$4,100 to S$4,700 over the same period, an increase of 2.1% per annum in real terms.
  • Singapore has 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.
  • The average unemployment rate of local postgraduates has remained "lower than that of all other locals over the past five years."

Developing the local talent pool

In relation to this issue, the minister was asked how work experience and other certifications are considered aside from formal academic qualifications in eligibility requirements for career conversion programmes (CCPs). Responding, the minister shared that academic requirements are put in place for some CCPs, to ensure trainees are 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.

On the same issue, one MP has asked about the country's initiatives to bring back top overseas Singaporean talent. The Government, Minister Tan noted here, "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."

One way, he added, is through the Singapore Global Network (SGN) which drives digital engagement, as well as partnerships with private, public, and community organisations to deliver engagement initiatives, such as networking and community events for overseas Singaporeans.

Additionally, the SG and other agencies do offer various online resources to facilitate a smooth transition for returning Singaporeans, including information on education, working and leaving, and relocating.

Efforts to safeguard fair consideration

On this third issue, Minister Tan affirmed that MOM "does not and will not tolerate unfair hiring practices, and employers who do not give locals a fair chance will face stiff penalties," adding that the FCF sets out requirements for all employers to consider local workers fairly for job opportunities, and work is underway to enshrine this in legislation.

He then addressed the following:

1. The number of companies placed on the FCF Watchlist. Minister Tan said: "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 & 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 the FCF."

2. Whether companies need to notify MOM on the outcome of a job posting when it is subsequently delisted or when the role is filled, on the MyCareersFuture portal - where employers must first advertise, and fairly consider all candidates, before submitting an EP or S Pass application. In response, Minister Tan said that employers are not required to do so, just like on other job portals, citing administrative burden as a reason.

3. Enforcement actions taken. Minister Tan shared: "While the number of cases of discriminatory practices is small, MOM will continue to remain vigilant. Besides investigating complaints lodged with TAFEP, we 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."

From 2017 to 2021, he added, MOM took enforcement actions against approximately 300 companies. The regulatory actions included issuance of warning, and being barred from hiring or renewing foreign workers.

3. Whether MOM intends to impose personal responsibility on HR professionals in Singapore to comply with all manpower rules and regulations. Responding, Minister Tan reminded the room that "hiring decisions are not made by HR professionals alone." 

He elaborated: "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 with 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 we must also equip HR professionals to better support their companies."


Parliamentary questions that were raised:

  1. In light of the need to attract top global talent for key sectors in Singapore (a) whether there are initiatives to bring top overseas Singaporean talent back to Singapore; (b) what is the success rate in attracting top overseas Singaporeans to relocate and work in key sectors in Singapore; and (c) whether there is support to help top overseas Singaporean talent and their families to relocate and transition back in Singapore. 
    MP: Jessica Tan

  2. What is the success rate in growing our local manpower talent for the key sectors in Singapore; and (b) whether there is data to show that Singaporeans are succeeding in getting quality jobs in these key sectors. 
    MP: Jessica Tan

  3. Whether the Ministry has any plans to impose personal responsibility on human resource professionals in Singapore to comply with all manpower rules and regulations, such as the Fair Consideration Framework and Complementarity Assessment Framework.
    MP: Hazel Poa

  4. 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.
    MP: Chua Kheng Wee Louis

  5. 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.
    MP: Chua Kheng Wee Louis

  6. 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.
    MP: Gerald Giam Yean Song

  7. How many companies have been placed under the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices’ watchlist in 2021 due to possible breaches of the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF); (b) among those on the watchlist, how many have been found to have breached the FCF and debarred from hiring foreign workers and renewing their foreign workers’ work passes; and (c) how are employment agencies that breach the FCF dealt with.
    MP: Yip Hon Weng

  8. In the past five years, how many employment pass (EP) holders have been employed in the technology and non-technology related industries respectively; and (b) whether useful information can be drawn from the number of EPs issued relative to the areas of skill and expectation mismatches and biasness in hiring practices.
    MP: Liang Eng Hwa  

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