Suddenly, over the week, the mainstream (controlled) “media” has been flooded with government press releases and pronouncements on the hiring of foreigners in Singapore. They amount to what look like a concerted attempt to manipulate public discussions on the issue. But they may inadvertently be revealing more than it should about some internal contradictions in government.
The Ministry of Manpower came out wielding a shining sword on behalf of beleaguered Singaporean workers. From Sept 1, firms applying for new Employment Passes for foreign professionals will need to pay them a fixed monthly salary of at least $4,500, up from $3,900 now.
The bar will be set higher for those in the financial services sector – from Dec 1, new EP holders will need to be paid at least $5,000, MOM said. This is the first time it has specified a higher qualifying salary for a certain sector.
Qualifying salaries for experienced candidates in their 40s will also be raised so that they remain around double the minimum salary for the youngest applicants.
The new criteria, which mark the biggest adjustment for EPs in the last decade, will take effect from May 1 next year for EP renewals, The Straits Times reported.
As you start to wonder why the financial sector has been highlighted, wonder no more. The elephant in the room is, of course, foreigners working in our banks. Just a week ago, Temasek got very agitated about reports and allegations that it has been inundated with foreign staffers and issued a strong defence of its policy of having a diverse work force. It appealed to Singaporeans to be fair-minded and so on. And it 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.
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.
The other minder of one of our (Singaporeans’ and NOT the ruling party’s) three sources of sovereign funds, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, also criticised the spreading of falsehoods on the hiring practices of financial institutions. It said it was unhelpful and unfair to foreigners who worked and contributed to Singapore.
“We hear the views and concerns of Singaporeans who have spoken up on the issue of local representation in the financial sector,” the central bank and financial regulator said.
“But the propagation of falsehoods by some individuals is unhelpful for an informed discussion on these issues; not to mention, unfair to the financial institutions concerned as well as to the foreigners who work here and contribute to Singapore.”
MAS said overall, the picture is a positive one for Singaporeans. Singapore citizens take up seven out of 10 jobs in the financial service sector.
Quite adroitly, the government has been manoeuvring the debate on unfair policies which have placed true-blue Singaporeans at a growing disadvantage in their own country into one that it says Singaporeans should avoid. It sidetracks and avoids the main issues to talk about things almost irrelevant to the national debate now raging online – millennia away from the real professionally disgraceful purveyors of falsehoods otherwise known as mainstream “media”.
The overall mantra being chanted seems to be: “Don’t be racist.”
Question is: How does expressing one’s perception that so many citizens of a particular foreign country seem to be “enclaving” certain companies become a racist comment? It is the legitimate right of Singaporeans to bring this to the attention of the authorities – unless the authorities prefer to monitor everything themselves and simply expect citizens to suffer in silence.
The very fact that all the companies which seem to be targeted by the online postings have come out with figures which show foreigners do not dominate the companies is good.
Indeed, MOM itself has said it has put 47 more firms in its Fair Consideration Framework watchlist introduced in 2016 to identify employers suspected of having “discriminatory hiring practices”.
Of the 47 firms, 30 are in the financial services and professional services sectors.
A number of these employers have exceptionally high shares of foreign PMETs compared to their industry peers.
At one wealth management firm here, almost three-quarters of its PMETs are of the same nationality. The scenario is similar at another company from the financial services sector — a bank — where almost two-thirds of its PMETs are of the same nationality.
Everything seems to be well orchestrated in the effort to appear to be listening to everyone even if it means saying different things to different people. Either that – or we are now witnessing various arms of a government not quite agreeing with one another.
A ministry under fire takes the correct nationalistic line to protect Singaporeans. Simultaneously, at least two of the three organisations in charge of Singapore’s sovereign funds are saying to the face of true-blues: We are not beholden to you.
MOM is right. Well done. Temasek and MAS can go and fly their foreigner kites elsewhere.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.