Singapore MP proposes formalising labour laws to protect locals

Labour MP Patrick Tay has said the country needs more formal labour laws instead of mere advisories and guidelines to protect local workers.
By: | March 1, 2021

Tay, who is an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), said, “To safeguard the Singaporean core and curb discriminatory hiring, we must ensure that Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have access to a level playing field for jobs while balancing companies’ manpower needs in the immediate and longer term.” 

He said this in the context of public concerns that the country’s reliance on foreign professionals has led to unnecessary competition in the local job market. 

To address this issue, he proposed  formalising labour laws to tackle hiring bias, whether by nationality, age, gender, disability or race.  

“Perhaps it is time for us to seriously deep dive and consider, beyond mere tripartite advisories, guidelines and standards, to promulgate anti-discrimination legislation to give a stronger set of teeth to existing institutions like the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP),” he said. 

A formal legislation would be more effective than the existing advisories and guidelines which employers can choose not to follow. It can also serve as a clear deterrent to companies, give TAFEP more effective legal clout, and stamp out any discrimination at workplaces by employers or agencies, he said.  

Tay noted that some PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) viewed the increase in qualifying salary for foreign talent as raising their minimum wages. They were also concerned that employers might not give commensurate pay raises to local employees who perform similar jobs. 

He said he has heard of employers who “downgraded” Employment Pass holders to S Pass holders to comply with the policy changes, even though these workers were performing the same job function. S Pass holders must earn a fixed monthly salary of at least S$2,500 (US$1,893) and are typically degree or diploma holders, working in positions such as technicians, while Employment Pass holders need to earn at least S$4,500 (US$3,408) a month. 

“We therefore need to look at ways to further strengthen the S Pass criteria and conditions to prevent such a back-door approach. This also means we need continued stricter enforcement against errant companies with a weakening Singaporean core,” he said. 

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As such, Tay also suggested setting up a watch list of companies which employ a highly disproportionate number of foreign PMEs as a deterrent, conducting compulsory audits and imposing penalties on companies which practise discriminatory hiring. 

Acknowledging that employers may need to fill positions with foreign talent, he said they also need to have clear plans to have locals to eventually fill roles at all levels of their hierarchy, according to The Straits Times.