Back in February earlier this year, at least three individuals who had spoken up against the Government’s immigration policies were labelled foreigners. Workers’ Party chief Low Khia Thiang, founder Mr Gilbert Goh, and another young man holding a sign saying “Singapore for Singaporeans” were accused of inciting xenophobia back then. This topic of foreign workers continued raging (as it has been for years already) till earlier this week, when the Ministry of Manpower announced new rules that required all employers to consider Singaporeans fairly before they even considered hiring skilled professional foreigners.

With the earlier accusations of xenophobia in mind, the ministry was quick to highlight that the rules were, in fact, not meant to be a “Hire Singaporean First” policy, but more about fairness across the board. Indeed, fairness in hiring seems to be a problem among many firms in Singapore, with about half of all complaints recorded by the Tripartite Alliance of Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) being related to nationality-based discrimination.

These new rules set out clear expectations for companies to follow. For example, “firms making new Employment Pass applications must advertise the job vacancy in a new jobs bank, administered by the Singapore Workforce and Development Agency (WDA), for at least 14 days, and this advertisement must be open to Singaporeans.” Firms that repeatedly do not comply will be summarily dealt with:

The ministry and other government agencies will also identify firms which have a disproportionately low level of Singaporean PMEs or have had repeated complaints of nationality-based discrimination.

These firms will be asked to provide the ministry with information, such as organisation charts with nationality information, recruitment processes and staff grievance handling procedures.

If firms are not responsive towards improving their recruitment and training processes, the ministry may impose additional requirements.

They include attesting that the firm will not displace any similarly employed Singaporean within 60 days before or after applying for an Employment Pass.

Recalcitrant firms may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

Selected firms under additional scrutiny will be notified by the first quarter of next year.

Such measures would indeed help in keeping Singapore open and competitive. Echoing the statement released by the ministry, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin was quick to add that the new rules were not about moderation of foreign workers in Singapore, but to promote fair hiring practices at the workplace – and the new jobs bank is the first step towards this goal.

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