Monday 10 December 2012

Foreign worker policy not operated like COE system: Tan Chuan-Jin

By S Ramesh, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Dec 2012

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Acting Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin said companies have common misconceptions on Singapore's hiring policy for foreign workers.

One of them is the government has turned off the tap on bringing in foreign workers. Another is that measures to tighten the foreign manpower intake were sudden and knee-jerk.

Mr Tan said foreign worker quotas are not operated like the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) for cars, where there is an absolute cap to the number of such workers allowed in.

"The few levers that we have essentially lies with levies, so basically, levies can (be) increased (to) make it more costly (to hire foreign workers)," said Mr Tan.

"Therefore you have to price it in as to whether you need more workers."

The other lever that the government uses is the dependency ratio, which is different for various sectors.

Under it, companies need to employ one Singaporean worker to be eligible for a certain number of foreign workers it takes in.

Mr Tan said: "If the demand continues to be strong, we continue to calibrate (the number of foreign workers) and that is the correct way to do it because it prevents you from making a broad-brush solution that is perhaps too strong and leaves you with little room for flexibility."

"One (misconception) is that we have completely turned off the tap, meaning that foreign workers were available and we suddenly completely reduced them (to) close to zero. That's not the case," said Mr Tan.

"Most Singaporeans understand why we do need foreign workers in our midst to augment the workforce. The question really is with the numbers. The workforce continues to grow but the pace is slowing down.

Why companies face that issue is because the demand is very strong across the board. So there are companies getting the foreign worker numbers and others are not. For those who are not getting (foreign workers), they feel that the tap has been turned off. But others who are getting might also be frustrated because they are not getting as many as they want."

Mr Tan added: "We need to manage the number because unlike the past where we could grow and perhaps not feel that physical and social impact, we have reached a stage where those things matter and that's where we need to begin to tighten up and ease off in terms of foreign worker dependency, so the move towards productivity is quite critical."

Mr Tan acknowledged that some companies may move out of Singapore with the tighter foreign worker quota.

He said this would affect industries which are labour and land intensive.

Mr Tan said that is where Singapore's partnership with Iskandar Malaysia can help - by offering these companies an option to transit out of Singapore.

He said agencies like SPRING can help such companies make the transit.

Workers facing employment issues should approach MOM for help: Tan Chuan-Jin
By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia, 8 Dec 2012

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin has acknowledged that in general, the relationship between an employer and employee tends to be weighted against workers.

Posting on his Facebook page, Mr Tan said that is why the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act was amended "to try and stem the worse abuses".

He was commenting on the latest case of two workers from China who sat on top of construction cranes for hours on Thursday, over an alleged pay dispute with their employer. The workers have been charged with criminal trespass.

Separate checks by the Manpower Ministry have also revealed that the two workers did not have any salary owed to them.

Still, Mr Tan said the ministry is investigating whether the company has breached any statutory provisions under the Employment Act.

Companies who contravene the Employment Act and/or the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act can be prosecuted, fined and may also be barred from hiring foreign workers in future.

He also reiterated that workers facing employment issues should approach the ministry for advice and help.

He noted that the workers in the latest incident, knew their way around. Shedding more light to the case, Mr Tan said 24-year-old Zhu Guilei had gone to the ministry in July 2011 to enquire about how he and his friend could resign and return home.

Both Zhu and 47-year-old Wu Xiaolin again went to the ministry on 5 December to highlight that they were owed salaries.

To help in investigations, the ministry had asked the workers to come back with their documents.

Mr Tan said they never did and ended up on the crane.

When asked why they did not come back to lodge their claims, one worker apparently said it was "troublesome".

"Our officers asked one of them why they did not come back. One of the workers shared that going to MOM to lodge their claims was 'troublesome'," Mr Tan said.

Mr Tan said the ministry requires documentation from the workers in order to substantiate their claims so they can handle the dispute fairly.

"We would like to reiterate that workers should not take matters into their own hands and break the law," he said.

He added the ministry follows up even on non-statutory cases where Labour Relations officers will speak to the companies to help get things smoothened out.

Companies he said can be blacklisted and denied access to workers if found to have breached rules or flouted acceptable practices.

But Mr Tan said in some instances, the workers too can have misplaced expectations or unreasonable demands.


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