Tuesday 18 February 2014

Singapore can't shut out foreigners: Tan Chuan-Jin

Firms could pull out, so maintaining balance is 'tricky issue', says minister
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 17 Feb 2014

ACTING Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin sought to explain the tension between keeping Singapore open to foreign talent and ensuring locals are given fair consideration in jobs, at a community dialogue in Pasir Ris yesterday.

His priority is to look after Singaporeans, he said, but the balance between local and foreign workers is a "tricky issue" and Singapore cannot shut its doors to foreigners.

"If we swing too far the other way... some of these companies might find it better off to operate somewhere else," he said, adding that it would then lead to job losses for locals.

The minister was responding to a question from resident Benjamin Wan, 49, who felt that he had been victimised twice by bosses who preferred foreigners instead of locals.

"We have been coming up with framework after framework, but there is no enforcement... and Singaporeans have been encountering job discrimination," lamented Mr Wan, who did not reveal his current occupation.

Mr Tan reassured Mr Wan, saying that the Fair Consideration Framework will help local professionals, managers and executives.

Under the framework, which starts in August, firms with more than 25 employees will have to prove that they tried to hire Singaporeans first before they are allowed to recruit foreign professionals.

These companies must advertise professional jobs paying less than $12,000 a month on a government-run jobs bank.

Another resident, engineering firm boss Leong Weng Kuan, brought up how the Government has been restricting the growth of work permit holder numbers in recent years, and called for a relaxation.

"Singaporeans do not want to do these jobs and by restricting these work permit numbers, it creates problems for local SMEs," Mr Leong said, referring to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Responding, Mr Tan said that work permit holder numbers are still increasing, but "the rate of growth has to slow down".

He added that the Government will continue to tighten the inflow of work permit holders, a group that has the "greatest bearing" on foreign worker numbers here, even though they are filling jobs that locals shun.

The number of work permit holders rose from 757,100 in 2007 to 856,300 in 2009, and 970,600 last year.

They make up about seven in 10 of the nearly 1.3 million foreigners in the workforce.

Before the dialogue, Mr Tan spent three hours meeting Pasir Ris East residents at a wet market and exercising with them at a family carnival, accompanied by the ward's MP, Mr Zainal Sapari.

The minister also fielded questions on the possibility of staging more community bonding programmes and on public transport.

Mr Tan said individuals have to be proactive when it comes to community bonding. "The Government cannot force you all to say hello to each other," he quipped.

In the area of public transport, Mr Tan called for patience, and said efforts are under way to shorten the intervals between trains and to build more MRT lines.

The dialogue at Loyang Point mall attracted more than 100 registered participants and curious onlookers, and was part of a ministerial visit by Mr Tan, who is an MP for Marine Parade GRC.

These are organised by the People's Association for ministers to visit wards outside their constituencies.

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