Raising the bar and building a strong local core workforce in Singapore

As the Fair Consideration Framework nears its third anniversary, Singapore’s evolving immigration policies have had an increasing impact on businesses across the size spectrum that are facing increased scrutiny and challenges in relation to foreign manpower profiles and hiring processes

This article was first published in Orient magazine, 27th June 2017


By Ruth Wilkins, Director, Magrath Global


It is well documented that the Fair Consideration Framework was introduced in 2014 as part of the Government’s overall strategy to promote fair employment practices and an effort to strengthen the Singaporean core in the local workforce. Since that time, the practical measures designed to facilitate this have been carefully calibrated in their implementation and increasingly felt by companies and individual foreign employees.


The Ministry of Manpower has made clear that a quota for foreign professionals qualifying for Employment Passes is not being introduced but that foreign workforce growth will continue to be moderated to ensure it acts as a supplement to the local workforce in a sustainable manner. In essence, the measures aim to maintain the delicate equilibrium between protecting and nurturing the local workforce and utilising foreign talent to enable the longer term growth and expansion of the Singapore economy. Consequently development of the local workforce is key, as unemployment rose slightly in 2016 with net growth in local employment still slow compared to levels seen in recent years. A company’s interpretation of the spirit of the Framework is therefore crucial in an employer’s active demonstration of its commitment to these policies.


Fair employment and hiring practices


The requirement to advertise in the Singapore Work Development Agency (WDA) Jobs Bank before filing new Employment Pass applications is arguably a cornerstone of the Framework. The advertisement must be open to all Singaporeans and comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, and must run on the WDA Jobs Bank for at least 14 calendar days. Certain exemptions continue to apply however the MOM encourages firms to advertise all their job vacancies, even those positions that technically qualify as exempt.


The principles of Fair Employment and Hiring Practices encompass recruitment and selection on merit (including qualifications, experience or ability to perform the job) and regardless of race, gender, age, religion, disability, marital status or family responsibilities. It also requires the fair treatment of staff with equal opportunities for training and development based on their strengths and needs, and the incentivising and reward of employees commensurate with their ability, experience, performance and contribution.


The MOM is increasingly demonstrating that it will not shy away from taking action in the form of curtailing work pass privileges, in circumstances where firms are found to have nationality based or other discriminatory HR practices. Around 250 companies are currently estimated to be on the Watch List and required to work alongside the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) to demonstrate their commitment to improving internal hiring and employment practices. The term ‘triple weak’ has been used to describe companies not found to be actively nurturing a strong Singaporean core or having a strong relevance to Singapore’s economy and society.


Increased Employment Pass processing times


Once an employer has navigated the recruitment and jobs bank advertising criteria, the submission of an Employment Pass itself is also subject to increased scrutiny. The strength of an application hinges as much on the company’s profile as the individual’s personal credentials. This has led to the MOM confirmation in March that the typical processing time of an application has been revised from 1 to 3 weeks. The increased timeline facilitates additional scrutiny of supporting documents, company profile, qualifications, and potential exchange of information with other government agencies or overseas organisations. Further delays beyond the standard 3 weeks are also possible if additional information is requested or if there are other unexpected complications.


Raising of the Employment Pass salary criteria


The minimum monthly salary for an EP application rose to SG$3,600 in January. This was in line with the gradual tightening of criteria in recent years calibrated against rising median wages for locals at the Professional Managerial Executive and Technical level. However it remains the case that the salary threshold is assessed in the context of the overall application profile.


Career Support and Human Capital Partnership Programmes


Encouragement and reward of companies is arguably at the heart of the policies, in the form of a raft of generous government supported schemes and the prestigious Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme.


Job skills and profile matching


Two foreign employment agencies are being introduced under a two year pilot initiative by MOM to assist unemployed white collar workers to re-enter the workforce. Job seekers must be referred through Workforce Singapore or the National Trades Union Congress as the focus shifts towards active jobseekers as opposed to sourcing candidates in existing employment.


The schemes are supported by organisations including the National Trades Union Congress, SPRING Singapore, Workforce Singapore and MOM. These include the Lean Enterprise Development designed to support companies to become more manpower lean through improved processes. The WorkPro initiative now includes grants of up to S$480,000 to incentivise the recruitment and retention of older workers and implement flexible work arrangements for all. Similarly, Place and Train Programmes ‘P-MAX’ are designed to enhance the opportunities for matching SMEs with job seeking PMETs, with Workforce Singapore providing up to 90% funding support for the workshop fees.


Recognition of the aging population is central to these initiatives. In 2006 the ratio of the population over 65 years of age was 1:7. This has risen to 1:5 in 2017 and is predicted to reach 1:3 by 2030.


The Human Capital Programme by TAFEP is underpinned by 3 key objectives, the strength of the Singaporean core, ‘complementarity’ between foreign and local foreign employees and a skills transfer from foreign to local employees. Companies are encouraged to invite an assessment of its good practices and human capital development plans, and those awarded the status of a HC Partner will enjoy a number of benefits including faster responses to MOM transactions, recognition of their endorsement and better access to government resources.


The message therefore remains clear that a two way dialogue between Government and businesses will continue to be encouraged in the pursuit of raising the bar on these core strengths and foreign manpower policy must inevitably adapt to this longer term strategy. 



About the author


Ruth Wilkins is a qualified UK lawyer and Director of Magrath Global. Ruth has more than 10 years of experience in all aspects of Singapore immigration, advising a wide range of clients from individuals to multinational companies on the practical implications of transferring employees to Singapore, managing the service delivery of a large team of immigration specialists and also providing immigration training and updates to HR professionals. 


About Magrath Global


Magrath provides comprehensive immigration advice and support to businesses and individuals in the Asia Pacific region. For more information visit www.magrath.sg