Tuesday 29 October 2013

Singapore must let MNCs transfer foreign staff here: Tan Chuan-Jin

It must play by international rules even as it acts to protect locals
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2013

SINGAPORE must adhere to international agreements and allow multinational firms to transfer foreign staff here, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said yesterday, when asked if such transfers circumvent the new Fair Consideration Framework.

The framework, which takes effect next August, requires all firms to advertise openings on a government jobs bank before hiring skilled foreigners.

Mr Tan was replying to a resident's question at a dialogue in the Woodgrove division of Sembawang GRC during his first ministerial community visit.

Ms Oun Hui Ping, 38, applauded the new advertising requirement but worried that multinational corporations (MNCs) could exploit a "loophole" by bringing in foreigners as "transfer staff".

Replying, Mr Tan referred to the World Trade Organisation's General Agreement on Trade in Services, and noted that intra-company transfers are subject to strict rules.

The worker must have been employed for at least a year beforehand and must be a manager, executive or specialist.

Transferred workers can stay for a two-year period, which can be extended by three years at a time up to a total of eight years.

But Mr Tan also noted that many foreigners are not here under such transfers.

He argued that Singapore has to make it worthwhile for MNCs to be here, as they generate jobs, and a diverse workforce is one attractive factor.

On the new framework, he said: "It's one of those policies where there will be individuals who will feel that we're not protecting Singaporeans enough.

"But my perspective is, we need to protect Singaporeans by generating jobs."

Another question came from Mr Benny Lim, 22, who asked what the "new normal" in politics means for front-line government staff or grassroots leaders.

Mr Tan said that front-line staff will have a harder time as people are more demanding.

But even though "there might be good reasons why you are frustrated", those are not good reasons to treat someone badly, he said.

A "new normal" does not mean accepting this, he said. "I think we need to push back and say this is not the society we want."

Before fielding these questions, Mr Tan also talked about how every resident can help to create his desired community.

"Imagine a community where people actually know each other. That's what nation-building is," he told some 100 residents attending the dialogue, and added: "It starts with you."

He made this point after joining them for discussions on issues such as how to encourage residents to volunteer and new grassroots initiatives.

The residents first formed small groups to discuss the issues, before coming together to share their conclusions in a manner reminiscent of Our Singapore Conversation sessions held earlier.

Mr Tan's visit to Woodgrove, which was hosted by the ward's grassroots adviser and MP Ong Teng Koon, began earlier yesterday morning at a Three-Generational Family Carnival and Lifelong Learning Fair.

Alongside some 3,000 residents, the minister sampled local food such as mee siam and tried traditional games such as chapteh.

He also dropped by job booths that were part of the fair.

In the face of the ongoing labour crunch and tight foreign worker policy, these bosses were eager to hire Singaporeans - and get a snapshot with the Acting Manpower Minister as well.


It's one of those policies where there will be individuals who will feel that we're not protecting Singaporeans enough. But my perspective is, we need to protect Singaporeans by generating jobs."

- Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, on the new framework

What draws scrutiny of a firm? MOM not saying
Factors not revealed so firms will not escape by just meeting thresholds
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2013

MANY things could land firms under the authorities' stern gaze when new fair employment rules kick in next year. But companies will not know exactly what these are.

This is so that bosses do not think they can escape attention by just meeting thresholds, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times.

The Fair Consideration Framework, announced last month, aims to ensure a fair playing field for Singaporean workers.

One aspect is a jobs bank on which firms must advertise before hiring skilled foreigners. Another is greater scrutiny of companies that may have discriminatory human resource practices.

Firms might be subject to this if they have a low share of Singaporean professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) compared to others in the industry.

How low is too low? Fielding such questions in Parliament last Monday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had said it would vary across sectors and firms. But the ministry has its "internal thresholds that will trigger us to take a look", he had added.

In response to queries, MOM said it was "unable to disclose the full suite of factors and the exact thresholds" involved.

"We do not want a firm to take a narrow view that it will not be subject to additional scrutiny and that whatever it practises is acceptable as long as it has a higher share of Singaporean PMEs above our specified threshold," said a spokesman.

Mr Josh Goh, assistant director of corporate services at recruitment consultancy The GMP Group, thinks this decision will give the framework more bite.

"If clear thresholds were given, employers might just satisfy the minimum criteria without making any conscious effort to develop locals in the long run," he said.

But he and other experts also warned that the accompanying uncertainty could spook firms.

"Economic growth doesn't cope well with uncertainty," said Mr Serge Shine, managing director for recruitment firm Spring Professional South East Asia.

Firms which come under scrutiny will have to provide MOM with information such as organisation charts with nationality data, recruitment processes and plans to reduce reliance on foreigners.

This should not be an issue for companies as long as the data stays with MOM, said Mr Shine.

But Mr Goh noted that small and medium-sized companies without well-established HR practices could find this tough: "They may have to start from scratch."

Still, even if firms object, they cannot wriggle out of providing accurate information: It is an offence to give false information to the ministry, and those who do so may be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.

MOM said it may also interview current and former employees, and firms may have to share the information declared with their own staff. "The staff can then alert MOM if there is any misrepresentation," it said.

Firms which refuse to improve their HR practices may face more requirements.

They may have to declare that when they apply for or renew a foreigner's Employment Pass, they will not displace any Singaporeans in similar roles - for two months before and afterwards.

The uncooperative will face a longer wait for passes, or even lose their right to hire such foreigners.

But Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Phillip Overmyer expects multinationals to be compliant, and keen to explain their talent needs if MOM comes knocking.

These firms seek to hire Singaporeans anyway, he noted: "MNCs want to get good people, not just cheap staff."

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