Sunday 16 August 2020

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

By Clement Yong and Ng Keng Gene, The Sunday Times, 16 Aug 2020

Temasek described as "racist", "false" and "divisive" Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees, standing by its hiring policies while calling for more civility on social media.

Posts have been circulating over the past week highlighting the LinkedIn accounts of Temasek's Indian employees, questioning why the investment firm is hiring foreigners instead of locals.

DBS Bank and Standard Chartered Bank have also come under similar criticism on social media, in what observers said are "real inter-group tensions" that need to be resolved.

Temasek said last Friday in its strongly worded statement: "Some of our colleagues from India have been targeted recently on social media by a divisive, racist campaign. This makes us very angry at the false claims perpetuated. The Singaporeans among us are also ashamed at such hateful behaviour on the Singapore social media."

The issue arose after the Ministry of Manpower earlier this month placed 47 employers - 30 of which were in the financial service and professional service sectors - on a watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

With the number of people working here, excluding maids, suffering the biggest quarterly contraction on record in the first three months of the year, competition for jobs among locals and foreigners has become a hot-button issue.

While much of the decline was due to significant cutbacks in the number of foreign workers, local employment also dropped slightly, the ministry's labour market report released in June showed.

Temasek said 90 per cent of its 600-strong staff at its headquarters in Singapore are Singaporeans or permanent residents, a ratio similar to that of its senior leadership.

Globally, the nationality mix of its employees is about 60 per cent Singaporean and 40 per cent other nationals, of whom around 10 per cent are Singapore PRs.

The top five groups of foreigners it hires are those from China, the United States, India, Britain and Malaysia.

While it will continue to provide opportunities for its Singaporean workers, Temasek emphasised that it "will be foolish of us not to tap the global pool of talent".

"There is not only value in diversity, but the cross-fertilisation of experiences and ideas across geographies, and the ability to connect the diverse dots, has become one of our key strengths," it added.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the Facebook posts are not to be encouraged.

"The tendency for being xenophobic is always beneath the surface. It will generate tensions and, if not resolved, will be expressed in words and actions targeted at the group or community seen as a threat," said Professor Tan.

He urged stakeholders to address the source of the unhappiness that triggers the posts rather than just ban them, as it would drive them underground. "I don't think it's just the pandemic, but any condition that makes people feel vulnerable or unfairly treated vis-a-vis another group or community," said Prof Tan.

"There must be other constructive ways in place for people to vent their anger and trust that their concerns would be addressed."

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said people become more attuned to unfair hiring practices in times of economic uncertainty.

"But it is one thing to call for a careful examination of what may be unfair hiring practices, and another to take this out on particular groups of immigrants and say disparaging things about them," he said.

"It takes both locals and foreigners working in Singapore to share the burden of finding creative ways to keep economic vitality despite all the restrictions posed by the pandemic."

Without referring to the incident, Second Minister for National Development Indranee Rajah yesterday warned of "toxic" xenophobia that divides society.

"For us, the key and the most important thing is that... we want Singaporeans to have full employment and good income; it does not mean that we have to be nasty."

She added that Singapore will never be completely self-sufficient.

"Even as (we accept foreigners), it must be part of what we can absorb and we hope that there will be training and skills transfer."


Monetary Authority of Singapore to stress need to grow Singaporean core in financial institutions
It says in reply to ST Forum letter that citizens take up 43% of senior management jobs in sector
By Prisca Ang, The Straits Times, 19 Aug 2020

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will intensify its engagements with the senior management of financial institutions on their workforce profiles and plans to grow the Singaporean core, said its managing director Ravi Menon.

In a reply published today to a letter in The Straits Times Forum page, Mr Menon said: "Protecting and growing Singaporean jobs, especially in current economic conditions, is a top priority."

He pointed to a $125 million package established by MAS earlier this year to encourage financial institutions to retain, train and hire Singaporeans.

He was responding to a letter, published on Aug 15, from retired senior banker Raymond Koh, who called for an examination of the workforce composition in banks. "As a retired senior banker, I can say categorically that in the past two decades, many foreigners hired in Singapore's finance sector have been for upper-middle to senior management positions," wrote Mr Koh.

Mr Menon wrote: "While not yet where we want to be for every financial institution, the picture across the sector as a whole is better than often portrayed."

He said MAS estimates that citizens make up 70 per cent of the sector's workforce, with permanent residents (PRs) accounting for another 14 per cent. Singaporeans take up 43 per cent of senior management jobs across the sector, reflecting the Republic's role as an international hub, he said.

The perennial hot-button topic of foreign talent is in the spotlight again amid the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn. There have been calls, in Forum letters, for the Government to review its labour policies by granting fewer employment passes. Others urged local workers to view foreigners as collaborators and not competitors.

Retail banks told ST that local workers make up a sizeable portion of their workforce in technology and risk management, areas that Mr Menon said could be improved.

United Overseas Bank (UOB) head of group human resources Dean Tong said eight in 10 of its staff in these teams are Singaporeans or PRs.

A DBS Bank spokesman said citizens and PRs make up nearly 95 per cent of its risk management team and 85 per cent of its technology and operations team.

He added that 15 out of 16 members of DBS' top leadership team in Singapore, including chief executive officer Piyush Gupta, are Singaporeans, while one is a PR.

An OCBC Bank spokesman said that 84 per cent of its staff in the areas of technology and risk management are citizens and PRs.

The banks added that they have initiatives in place to ensure a strong pipeline of local talent.

UOB's Mr Tong said the bank launched its flagship training programme Better U last year to equip staff with technical skills to succeed in the digital future.

Meanwhile, DBS said it is hiring seasoned professionals in growth technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, full stack development and data analytics through a range of specialised programmes which cater to locals.

It will hire close to 150 young graduates yearly for talent development programmes such as the bank's graduate associate programmes.

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem said it is important for local workers to stay relevant by being familiar with global changes, for instance in financial technology and alternative payment platforms.

"That would be how we can grow the local talent pool, to make our locals the best match for those jobs, and not just depend on quota."

Ms Low said banks and other financial institutions should abide by fair hiring guidelines, recruit staff based on merit and consider the diversity and make-up of their workforce at all levels, including the middle-and senior-management levels.

She noted: "Banks should also consider that locals may have greater familiarity with the local and regional business context and dynamics."

Forum: 70% of senior roles in retail banks' local functions held by Singaporeans

I thank Mr Raymond Koh Bock Swi for his thoughtful letter (Workforce composition in banks needs to be examined, Aug 15). I have asked my team to reach out to him for further views and suggestions.

Protecting and growing Singaporean jobs, especially in current economic conditions, is a top priority. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) established a $125 million package earlier this year to encourage financial institutions (FIs) to retain, train and hire Singaporeans.

We want to see a strong Singaporean core complemented by high-quality and diverse foreign talent in every major FI.

MAS closely monitors these FIs' workforce profile by locals (citizens and PRs separately) and foreigners, broken down by seniority, business function, qualifications, and so on.

MAS engages FIs' senior management on their workforce profiles and plans to grow the Singaporean core. We will intensify these engagements.

While not yet where we want to be for every FI, the picture across the sector as a whole is better than often portrayed.

MAS estimates that citizens make up 70 per cent of the sector's workforce, with PRs making up another 14 per cent. Singaporeans are well represented across business functions, but we need to improve the local proportion in areas like technology and risk management.

MAS estimates that Singapore citizens account for about 70 per cent of senior management roles in retail banks' local functions. Across the entire sector, the proportion is about 43 per cent, reflecting Singapore's role as an international financial centre. As our financial sector attracts more regional and global HQ functions, it creates more good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans. But it also means a higher proportion of foreigners in senior management in these functions as FIs understandably draw from a global talent pool to fill these positions.

Even so, a good number of Singaporeans have assumed regional leadership roles. More Singaporeans are taking on overseas positions, typically a prerequisite for these leadership roles. MAS has been working with FIs to develop a strong local leadership pipeline, and the industry is making progress.

My colleagues and I are committed to growing the Singaporean core in the financial sector. We do this by working with our FIs to develop Singaporeans: building critical skills, broadening capabilities, gaining international exposure, and ensuring equal opportunity to take on the many good jobs and leadership roles that our financial centre will continue to create.

Ravi Menon
Managing Director
Monetary Authority of Singapore
ST Forum, 19 Aug 2020

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

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