Saturday, 29 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

Bar to hire foreigners raised

Employment Pass salary criterion to be raised to at least $5,000 for financial services sector from 1 December 2020

Employers who hire from abroad to pay more and have to look harder for locals for job first

Firms must advertise all S Pass jobs on portal for at least 28 days before hiring foreigners
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2020

From Sept 1, firms applying for new Employment Passes (EPs) for foreign professionals will need to pay them a fixed monthly salary of at least $4,500, up from $3,900 now.

The bar will be set higher for those in the financial services sector - from Dec 1, new EP holders will need to be paid at least $5,000, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday. This is the first time it has specified a higher qualifying salary for a certain sector.

Qualifying salaries for experienced candidates in their 40s will also be raised so that they remain around double the minimum salary for the youngest applicants.

The new criteria, which mark the biggest adjustment for EPs in the last decade, will take effect from May 1 next year for EP renewals.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the financial services sector was singled out because of the higher salary norms, as well as strong hiring capacity in the sector.

Locals are also interested and available to take on jobs in the sector, though some may need training support before they can be effective in those roles, she said, adding that the move complements efforts by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to encourage financial institutions to strengthen their pipeline of local talent.

MAS said yesterday that the higher salary criteria will further support hiring of Singaporeans in the sector, while allowing financial institutions to continue to complement their local workforce by tapping a global talent pool for deep skills and new expertise in areas such as cyber security, green finance and pandemic risk insurance.

MOM is also making several other changes to foreign work pass policies to support employment opportunities for locals as the COVID-19 crisis weighs on the job market.

For mid-skilled foreigners on S Passes, the minimum qualifying salary will be raised from $2,400 to $2,500 from Oct 1 for new applicants, and May 1 next year for renewals. The salary criteria for older and more experienced S Pass holders will be raised accordingly.

Firms will also have to advertise jobs on the portal for at least 28 days, up from 14 currently, before they can apply for a new EP or S Pass, from Oct 1. The advertising rule currently applied only to EP-level jobs.

Said Mrs Teo: "If you (employers) are in a position to consider candidates from different sources, then they must not favour foreign applicants over local applicants that are equally qualified or equally suitable for the job.

"We also want to emphasise this point, once again, to businesses, that they must make efforts to build up and retain their Singaporean core. This is critical, particularly in a climate and a time like this."

While highlighting the Government's support for businesses which hire more locals, she stressed that Singapore must remain an open and connected hub for international businesses.

"We do value the contributions of our foreign workforce because they do complement the local workforce in keeping Singapore an attractive host to investors from around the world," she said.

There were 190,000 EP holders and 189,000 S Pass holders here as of June, said MOM.

It said in a statement yesterday that the growth of EP and S Pass holders has slowed in recent years, even as the economy expanded.

For EP holders, growth slowed from an average of 13,000 a year in the first half of the last decade to less than 3,000 in the second half. The growth in the number of S Pass holders slowed from an average of 17,500 annually in the first half of the last decade to less than 6,000 annually in the second half.

National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said yesterday that the latest moves send a strong signal to employers to ensure fair consideration and treatment of Singaporeans, especially in the current climate.

But he added in his Facebook post: "With higher wage floors for foreign workers, we will need to pay attention to ensuring wage parity, in particular for Singaporeans who are performing similar jobs."

Job rules tightened so Singaporeans have more access to vacancies
Firms must advertise jobs for at least 28 days before hiring foreigners, even for S Pass roles
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2020

Rules regarding the hiring of foreigners are being tightened so that Singaporeans have greater access to the vacancies on offer.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday that from Oct 1, firms will have to advertise jobs on the portal for at least 28 days, up from 14 currently, before they can apply for a new Employment Pass (EP) or S Pass for a foreign candidate.

These changes under the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) are aimed at giving local job seekers more time to respond to job openings and for employers to seriously evaluate their applications, said the ministry in a statement.

Previously, the advertising requirement covered only EP-level jobs. It applies to employers with at least 10 employees, but does not include jobs paying a fixed monthly salary of $20,000 and above, those to be filled by intra-corporate transferees or short-term vacancies of up to one month.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said the rule is being extended to S Pass jobs because those are the ones Singaporeans working in sectors that have been most affected by COVID-19, such as hospitality, tend to be trying to return to.

"We think it will make a meaningful difference to the profile of displaced workers who are seeking to get back into work," she said.

She added that her ministry will pay closer attention to companies where there is an over-concentration of EP or S Pass holders from a single source country.

Singaporeans have noticed this happening in certain companies, departments and industries, and it has become a source of concern for them, she noted.

There are two main reasons why it should be avoided, she said.

First, COVID-19 has shown that borders may suddenly close and if a firm has a very high concentration of staff from particular countries, it could be putting itself in a very risky position, she said, drawing parallels to the rationale for diversifying supply lines.

Second, it affects the fabric of society and the sense of comfort people feel, whether in the workplace or in the community.

"Singapore has always been multiracial, Singapore has always been multicultural, and having that rich fabric is important. So if you have in certain companies or industries a very high concentration of one (nationality), this doesn't feel the same as what we have come to be familiar with about Singapore," she said.

MOM will scrutinise more firms, including those whose Singaporean core has been weakening or whose EP and S Pass workforce are overly concentrated from a single source. They may be placed on the FCF watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

So far this year, 90 employers have had their work pass privileges suspended because of FCF infringements, said the ministry.

When evaluating applications for EPs and S Passes, MOM will now also place more emphasis on whether the firm has continued to support their local PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) staff and responded to government efforts to help them recruit and train more Singaporean PMETs, or whether it has discriminated against qualified Singaporeans.

This is in response to the uncertain economic times, to "help sustain public support for a business-friendly work pass policy", said the ministry.

When asked whether MOM has considered implementing a quota for EPs, Mrs Teo said that the ministry does not close off any policy options. But based on the desired employment outcomes, the aim is to help businesses to recover, and not to introduce major shocks to the current system.

"We shouldn't go overboard. We should make sure they are meaningful adjustments that support local employment but not to the extent where it will impede a company's ability to recover and grow within Singapore," she said.

"Because we really do need the companies to expand opportunities. And so they must have access to the complement of skills and talent that they can find from anywhere, put them together, base it out of Singapore and make a success of it."

New hiring requirements for S Pass, EP holders will raise costs for some businesses: Experts
By Sue-Ann Tan and Prisca Ang, The Straits Times, 28 Aug 2020

The increase in qualifying salaries for Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass applicants will raise costs for some businesses, said experts, who also warned that further rises could reduce competitiveness.

They added that job seekers will have to change their mindset towards certain industries that must hire foreigners because locals shun those sectors.

OCBC Bank's head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling noted that the impact of the higher qualifying salaries could be more severe on sectors that hire more S Pass holders such as construction.

She added: "There have been some manpower shortages in specific fields like programmers, cyber security and other digital skills that are required where it may be difficult to plug the gap immediately."

Singapore Business Federation chief executive Ho Meng Kit said: "In the immediate term, this move may raise business costs. We would thus expect more employers to increase their efforts to look for locals and strengthen the Singaporean core, and we do hope for this outcome."

He added that there is a gap between wage and skills expectations that needs to be bridged between employers and mid-career local professionals, so firms should train them while retaining foreigners to complement local manpower.

The attitude of local job seekers will become crucial, noted employers.

Manufacturer Certact Engineering's managing director Ellis Eng said: "The root cause is really the issue of whether Singaporeans want to take up such jobs.

"I advertised recently and interviewed some candidates, but when they saw that we are a manufacturer situated in the west, they didn't take up the job. Singaporeans have to adjust their expectations as well."

Ms Eng, who has one EP holder and several S Pass holders on her staff, said firms have been hard-hit by the pandemic and this move would drive up operating costs.

Singapore Manufacturing Federation president Douglas Foo also noted that locals need to change their attitude and be proactive in training and upskilling for growth sectors. "Other factors must also not be forgotten," he said. "(These include) keeping salary caps in line with the rising pay of graduates from our local universities as well as the fact that with our limited domestic population, Singapore will not be able to progress as quickly without a workforce of foreigners, who in turn contribute to the larger national economy."

Seoul Garden Group general manager Garry Lam said his firm does not hire EP holders as they are too expensive and it has fewer than 10 S Pass holders.

"Perhaps the measures shouldn't apply across all industries, because for food services, not many locals are interested and have the impression it is a tough job with long hours, which is not true," he added.

"They feel if they're graduates, they cannot do service roles."

Financial institutions said they expect the higher qualifying salaries to have minimal impact on their operations. The EP salary criterion will be raised to at least $5,000 for the financial services sector from Dec 1. This will be the first time the Government has set higher qualifying salaries for a specific sector.

A DBS Bank spokesman said the bank supports the Government's efforts to develop a strong pipeline of local talent in the finance sector: "We remain committed to hiring and developing a Singaporean core in our workforce."

Mr Jason Ho, OCBC Bank's head of group human resources, said: "We look at an applicant's skills, experience and values, rather than their age, gender, nationality or race."

He added that the bank has various training and development programmes to reskill staff and groom future leaders.

Mr James Lee, Great Eastern managing director of group human capital, said the insurer is creating corporate job opportunities through the SGUnited Traineeships Programme. He added that all its financial advisory staff are local.

Citizens and permanent residents make up about 90 per cent of all three companies' workforce in Singapore.

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.

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