Parliament: Labour MP calls for higher salary criteria for Employment Pass applicants in ICT and professional services

SINGAPORE – Less than a week after it was announced that the minimum qualifying salaries for Employment Pass (EP) holders will be increased, labour MP Patrick Tay urged the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Monday (Aug 31) to consider further raising this minimum pay for two sectors: infocomm technology (ICT) and professional services.

These sectors generally have more companies on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices, said Mr Tay, who is an assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.

This was among several suggestions he made on strengthening the Singaporean core, in his speech opening the parliamentary debate on the President’s Address.

“The disruption brought about by Covid-19 and the resulting economic recession has surfaced ground concerns on the increased competition for jobs and employment. In this regard, we must uphold our pillar of meritocracy. There must be fairness and equal treatment and assessment of workers, which is also a fundamental International Labour Organisation commitment,” he said.

Singapore has already announced two increases this year in the salary threshold of EP holders.

The second was announced last Thursday by the MOM, and will take place from Sept 1 for new applications.

It will be raised to $4,500, from $3,900. For the first time, the ministry set a higher bar for the financial services sector, where the minimum qualifying salary for new applicants will go up to $5,000 from Dec 1.

New S Pass applicants will also need to be paid $2,500 from Oct 1, up from $2,400 now.

The change affects pass renewals from May next year.

Mr Tay said that since the announcement of the changes, union leaders and professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) he has spoken with raised concerns that employers would merely raise the salaries or repackage the compensation and benefits of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to meet the rules and retain them.

Singaporean staff performing similar or the same jobs as the foreign PMETs may not get a similar pay hike, resulting in “serious parity issues”, he said.

He said unions will closely watch the actions of unionised companies, and encouraged workers in non-unionised companies to become union members so that they can be better protected.

On a more general level, strengthening the Singaporean core of PMETs must be addressed at all levels of hierarchy, said Mr Tay.

Some large corporations with deep pockets may hire more Singaporeans at more junior levels to make them look better in terms of the proportion of locals they employ, he noted.

The hiring culture and mindsets must be changed across the board, from chief executives and chief human resources officers, to hiring managers and everyone involved in various HR processes, he said.

Multinational corporations need to be more intentional about offering regional and global opportunities to Singaporean PMEs, even as foreign PMEs are employed here.

At the same time, Singaporean PMEs must step up and readily accept such opportunities to take on leadership roles in other parts of the globe, for regional and international exposure and opportunities.

Mr Tay also called for more transparency on intra-corporate transferees which multinationals wish to bring into Singapore. Such foreign professionals are exempt from the advertising requirement under the FCF, under which jobs must be posted on the portal for at least 14 days – it goes up to 28 days from Oct 1 – before they can apply for a work pass.

He said companies on the FCF watchlist should be revealed if they have remained on the list for a period of time, such as one year, and failed to improve or show concerted efforts to strengthen the Singaporean core.

The Government can also impose mandatory audits and penalties such as removing preferential tax and other benefits including curtailing the award of public sector contracts on companies with discriminatory hiring practices and high proportion of grievance cases if no improvement is made within a certain period of time.

“We need to re-consider the long-held notion of being regarded as “not investment friendly” with legislation. The world has moved on to embrace sustainability and related environmental, social and governance legislation, which encompass fair employment. Similarly, Fair employment legislation has not stopped the likes of London and New York from being vibrant financial centres.

“I submit that we should explore and consider the utility and feasibility of a Fair Employment or Anti-Discrimination legislation in Singapore,” said Mr Tay.

He also reiterated the labour movement’s suggestion to consider restricting the number of foreign PMEs allowed to work here, through a two-tiered quota on higher-skilled and mid-skilled PMEs. This tiered format would allow companies to still hire foreign talents with specialised skillsets to drive technology-based initiatives, he said.

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