Population increases - Are there enough safeguards for Singaporean workers?

The population of Singapore increased from 5.18 million in the year 2011 to 5.4 million as of June 2013 reports the National Population &Talent Division. While the citizen population grew marginally from 3.26 million in in year 2011 to 3.31 million as at June 2013, the population of foreigners increased from 1.93 million in 2011 to 2.09 million as at June 2013.

Government data also shows that while Employment Pass (EP) holders have dropped about 2% since 2011, from 175,400 EP holders as at December 2011, to 172,100 EP holders as at June 2013 and work permit holders (excluding Foreign Domestic Workers and Construction Workers) have increased by less than 2%, from 409,800 such work permit holders in December 2011 to 416,800 such work permit holders in June 2013; the number of S-Pass holders have seen a very big increase of over 35 percent since December 2011, from 113,900 S-Pass holders in December 2011 to 154,100 in June 2013.

This data may suggest that some employers because of the higher qualifying monthly salary requirement for EP applicants set at $3000 currently (to increase to $3,300 in January 2014), are bringing in foreign workers under the other work pass schemes, and that the lax Dependency Ratio Ceiling set at 60% for some sectors, is little deterrent.

Against this backdrop the Ministry of Manpower has introduced the Fair Consideration Framework (to come into effect in August 2014)) which compels employers who may have already decided to employ a foreigner under the Employment Pass (EP) scheme, supposedly to give Singaporeans a fairer shot at good job opportunities by advertising such vacancies on the National Job Bank.

In introducing the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), the Ministry exempted small firms with 25 or fewer employees, and those jobs which pay a fixed monthly salary of $12,000 and above, from the advertising requirement for "practical reasons", but did not elaborate what practical reasons it considered for such exemptions. The Ministry also did not clarify what complaints-receiving mechanisms are in place, and how they will work in its assurance that if complaints are received of nationality-based or other discriminatory HR practices, these firms will attract additional scrutiny and may have their work pass privileges curtailed.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the biggest employers in Singapore and a significant number of SMEs have less than 25 or fewer employees. As there is no quota imposed on the number of EP holders a company may employ, practical reasons may actually require that there be no such exemptions, and that the FCF be implemented across all salary levels for equal protection. The inclusion of all employers regardless of the size of the firm and salary levels, may also potentially reduce recruitment costs for firms as the National Job Bank database system will be a cost-free advertisement platform for potential employees.

As the population continues to increase at such a rate, it is important for the Ministry of Manpower to not only extend the advertisement requirement of FCF to other work pass schemes but also to put in enough safeguards to ensure that employers don't just go through the motion and hire foreign workers when able and capable citizens are available to do the same job.