Monday, 24 August 2020

FTAs or CECA have not hurt Singaporeans' job prospects: DPM Heng Swee Keat

Bilateral agreements have not jeopardised employment opportunities for Singaporeans: DPM Heng
They can help attract investments from abroad and create better jobs, says DPM
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2020

Singapore's bilateral agreements with other countries have not jeopardised job opportunities for its citizens, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. In fact, they have opened doors to better jobs.

Responding to criticisms about how free trade agreements or comprehensive economic cooperation agreements had caused Singapore to "sign away important protection for Singaporean (jobs)", Mr Heng said that such statements were totally false.

"In fact, what we are doing is to ensure that it creates better jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

These agreements can help draw in investments from abroad and, in turn, pave the way for Singaporean firms to invest overseas and be fairly treated there, he said. "This, in turn, creates jobs back home."

He stressed that the agreements do not mean that Singapore was negotiating away its rights to determine who becomes a citizen or a permanent resident here, or who gets awarded an employment pass.

It is Singapore's sovereign right to decide on these issues, he added.

But Mr Heng acknowledged that some may feel there are too many foreigners residing in Singapore. He cited residents' concerns about the large number of expatriates at Changi Business Park - which is part of East Coast GRC where Mr Heng is an MP.

Speaking during a virtual constituency event, he explained the reason for this was that Singapore was still growing expertise in certain sectors, and that the Republic was facing a shortage of manpower in technology and in risk management areas.

These areas were ones where the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also saw scope for improvement, when it recently said it would engage financial institutions in an effort to grow the Singaporean core of their workforce.

Mr Heng also assured Singaporeans that there are proper channels in place - such as the Fair Consideration Framework - for the Government to monitor and take action against companies which have discriminatory hiring practices.

He cited a group of 47 employers who were placed on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

MOM had said then that these employers will have their employment pass applications for foreign hires closely scrutinised, and those which are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.

During yesterday's event, which focused on support for workers and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Heng said that more funds are being pumped into training Singaporeans.

In April, MAS had announced a $125 million support package to boost capabilities in the financial service and fintech sectors amid the current economic slump.

Such training was important, he said, as the skills which will be needed in a post-COVID-19 economy will be different from what they are today.

"It is raining very heavily now," he said. But even as people seek shelter during this economic storm, they should also take the opportunity to improve themselves. "So that when the rain stops, we can run," he said.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking at the "East Coast Conversations" virtual event on how Singaporean workers and companies can benefit from the recently announced measures to help tide the economy over the COVID-19 lull.

Mr Heng's fellow East Coast GRC MPs - Mr Tan Kiat How, Ms Jessica Tan, Dr Maliki Osman and Ms Cheryl Chan - also took part in the event, which was streamed live on Facebook.

No obligation under CECA for Singapore authorities to grant Indian nationals PR status or citizenship: Ministry of Trade and Industry
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2020

There is no provision under the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) for Indian nationals to become Singapore permanent residents and citizens, said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI).

And it is not true that CECA requires the Singapore authorities to automatically grant employment passes (EPs) to professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) from India who want to work here, the ministry added.

The ministry, in a statement yesterday, was responding to media queries after the merits of the pact, which was signed in 2005, have come under scrutiny again in recent weeks.

None of Singapore's free trade agreements, including CECA, make it an obligation for the Republic to automatically grant EPs to any foreign nationals, the MTI statement said.

"All foreign nationals applying for EP must meet our prevailing criteria, and all companies must comply with rules on fair hiring," the statement added.

Singaporeans are understandably concerned about competition from foreign PMEs amid the challenging economic and employment situation, said MTI.

However, it is misleading to attribute the number of Indian PMEs solely or mainly to CECA, the ministry added.

This was especially so, MTI said, for "intra-corporate transferees" or those who are transferred from a company's overseas unit to Singapore.

This category of workers in Singapore has consistently been at below 5 per cent of all employment pass holders in Singapore, the statement said.

They also come from a wide range of countries, with Indian nationals making up only a small segment, it added.

Under CECA, such transferees are required to have worked for their company for a period of not less than six months, among other conditions.

They are also allowed to stay for a total period of not more than eight years.

This is not the first time CECA has come under the spotlight.

Claims that the bilateral trade agreement has allowed Indian nationals to take PME jobs meant for Singaporeans re-emerged last year, after an expletive-laden video surfaced online showing a man originally from India lashing out at a security guard at a condominium.

Falsehoods on hiring in banks not helpful, unfair to foreigners who work here and contribute to Singapore: Monetary Authority of Singapore
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2020

Spreading falsehoods on the hiring practices of financial institutions is unhelpful and unfair to foreigners who work and contribute to Singapore, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said yesterday.

It was responding to queries from The Straits Times on recent social media posts targeting foreign professionals at financial institutions, some of which made false claims and sought to create ill feelings against workers from certain backgrounds.

"We hear the views and concerns of Singaporeans who have spoken up on the issue of local representation in the financial sector," the central bank and financial regulator said.

"But the propagation of falsehoods by some individuals is unhelpful for an informed discussion on these issues; not to mention, unfair to the financial institutions concerned as well as to the foreigners who work here and contribute to Singapore."

MAS said overall, the picture is a positive one for Singaporeans. Singapore citizens take up seven out of 10 jobs in the financial service sector.

The regulator said that it has been working closely with financial institutions for many years now to grow a workforce with a strong Singaporean core. "These efforts have helped to train and develop many Singaporean finance professionals," it said.

"But we need to do more, especially under the current economic conditions, to create more job opportunities for Singaporeans."

MAS said that it is "stepping up efforts to ensure more diversity in firms and functions, and equal opportunity for Singaporeans" and that more details will be shared in the coming months of what has been achieved and what more needs to be done.

"As an international financial centre with global and regional functions, we will necessarily have an international character to the workforce," MAS said. "But there are areas we can do better - some functions and some firms where there is scope to increase the proportion of Singaporeans."

Particularly, there is an urgent need to build the local talent pool in technology-related areas to meet increasing demand, MAS added.

It said: "Singaporeans are generally doing well in the financial sector but MAS would like to see more of them move into the senior ranks."

The issue of hiring bias has been a concern among professional, managerial and executive workers in the financial service sector, more so in a weak labour market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the authorities have been taking measures to ensure Singaporeans are fairly treated.

Early this month, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced it had placed another 47 employers - of whom 30 were in the financial service and professional service sectors - on a watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

On Thursday, the MOM raised the salary thresholds for Employment Passes (EPs), with a higher bar for financial services, and for S Passes, a move likely to push employers to hire more local workers.

From next Tuesday, companies applying for new EPs for foreigners will need to pay them at least $4,500 a month, up from $3,900 now.

In the financial service sector, from Dec 1, new EP holders need to be paid at least $5,000. This is the first time a higher qualifying salary has been set for a specific sector.

The qualifying salaries for older and more experienced workers will be revised accordingly.

In response to a Straits Times reader's comments on the workforce composition in banks, MAS managing director Ravi Menon said in a letter to The Straits Times Forum page published on Aug 19 that Singaporeans make up 70 per cent of the sector's workforce and permanent residents make up another 14 per cent.

He said that while Singapore citizens account for about 70 per cent of senior management roles in retail banks' local functions, this proportion is about 43 per cent across the entire sector.

Mr Menon noted this reflects Singapore's role as an international financial centre. He also said while Singaporeans are well represented across business functions, there is a need to improve the local proportion in areas like technology and risk management.

The three local banks, DBS, OCBC and UOB, have said that over 90 per cent of their workforce here are Singaporeans and PRs, while Standard Chartered has Singaporeans and PRs forming 83 per cent of its staff.

Human resources practitioner Joanna Yeoh, who has been in the sector for 25 years and took to social media this month to write about how "the scale has been tipped against locals for a while", said the latest move to raise the minimum salary criteria of foreign professionals sends "a strong signal" that the authorities are serious about ensuring Singaporeans are given fair access to job opportunities.

Other observers said negative sentiments about foreigners tend to grow in times of uncertainty.

People face a higher risk of being laid off and may perceive foreigners to be competing for jobs, said National University of Singapore senior economics lecturer Kelvin Seah.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said many Singaporeans are aware of the reality that a small country like Singapore has to attract foreign talent to stay globally competitive.

"But when economic difficulties hit home, it is hard to also be supportive of many foreigners taking up what is perceived as the better jobs," he added.

Mr David Leong, managing director of human resources firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, pointed out that many highly paid expatriates in the financial scene are global workers with varied experiences.

He added: "I am certain Singaporeans can have the same opportunities for such roles but they must be willing to be immersed overseas for those experiences."

Some misleading social media posts remain online despite being proven false
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2020

Social media postings hitting out at some banks and financial institutions, for their hiring practices which appeared to favour some nationalities ahead of Singaporeans, have been doing the rounds.

Some of the commentators, however, have been lax about fact-checking or ensuring that their posts reflect reality. Others have made misleading or even false claims.

For example, one post included a photo purportedly taken in a DBS Bank office here which showed a large number of non-Singaporean workers posing with its chief executive officer Piyush Gupta.

Another post included a photo purportedly taken at DBS' IT department at the bank's Asia Hub in Changi Business Park.

Both proved to be false. The bank clarified in a Facebook post on Aug 15 that the images were taken in its India office and not in Singapore, as the posts appeared to suggest.

The first photo was posted on DBS India's Facebook page three years ago, on Sept 5, 2017, when the bank was celebrating the opening of a new office in Mumbai.

The event was attended by Mr Gupta as well as Indian cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, who was collaborating with DBS to enrich the lives of children through sports.

The second photo was taken at an application security conference held at DBS Asia Hub 2 in Hyderabad a year ago.

When contacted and asked by The Straits Times about the post he created and whether he had made any efforts to verify the source of the image, businessman Dennis Lim replied by asking why he should have to do such checks.

He added that he has contacts who are bank staff and who have expressed concerns about the large number of expatriates at Changi Business Park.

That, apparently, was sufficient evidence to back his views in his post, even if the photo was a misrepresentation and used out of context.

Earlier this month, the managing director of a recruitment firm posted on his Facebook page a photo collage of LinkedIn profiles to show how some management positions at Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore were filled by staff of one nationality.

It was posted by Mr Victor Teoh, 51, managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting, who has been in human resources for over 10 years.

In his post, he recounted how a friend who used to work for the bank would attend meetings where he was the only Chinese present. He also questioned if some bank roles required skills that locals do not have. "Is it because we don't have local banking talent?"

Asked about his post, he told ST he relied only on public information, such as that on LinkedIn, to verify the claims.

He added: "We are not saying that foreigners should not come in.

"But if there is a dominance of a certain nationality, then that would be an issue, especially right now when we are losing jobs."

These and other posts - questioning why these foreigners were hired over locals - were widely circulated. Some of the posts remain online, despite the financial institutions debunking their claims.

Standard Chartered's statements on the matter have highlighted the fact that a majority of its employees are locals, no different from many major financial institutions here.

The bank said earlier this month that Singaporeans form 70 per cent of its headcount of 10,000, and citizens and permanent residents together form 83 per cent of its workforce.

It said: "The bank has invested heavily in grooming Singaporean leaders - 70 per cent of its Singapore management team are Singaporeans." The bank added that it also has many Singapore core leaders across global and regional roles, with 140 Singaporeans posted overseas.

Yesterday, the Monetary Authority of Singapore told The Straits Times it heard the views and concerns of Singaporeans who have spoken up on the issue of local representation in the financial sector.

It also said the propagation of falsehoods by some individuals is unhelpful for an informed discussion on these issues, and unfair to the financial institutions concerned as well as to the foreigners who work here and contribute to Singapore.

Free Trade Agreements have created more jobs for Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing

Singaporeans' concerns about foreign talent: Chan Chun Sing addresses fears about foreigners taking jobs from locals

Temasek calls out racist Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees; observers say posts show real tensions that need to be fixed

Government will address Singaporeans' anxiety over competition for jobs from foreigners: President Halimah at Opening of 14th Parliament

Singapore's recession deepens with worst ever quarterly contraction of 13.2% on a year-on-year basis in Second Quarter 2020

Government to pump in $8 billion more for COVID-19 support measures: DPM Heng Swee Keat in Ministerial Statement on 17 August 2020

Minimum salary for Employment Pass to rise to $4,500 from 1 September 2020; higher qualifying salary of $5,000 for financial services

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