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Four areas to look at to improve workplace fairness, employment, and employability for PMEs in Singapore

Four areas to look at to improve workplace fairness, employment, and employability for PMEs in Singapore

The areas include strengthening the Singaporean Core through enhancing the EP framework, and imposing a penalty framework for egregious cases of workplace fairness.

On top of supporting what Budget 2022 entails for Singapore, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General (ASG), Patrick Tay highlighted to the Parliament House four most urgent tasks the Government, and respective unions (NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation, or SNEF) have on hand to enhance workplace fairness, employment, and employability for local professionals, managers, and executives (PMEs).

In his Budget Debate speech in Parliament on Tuesday (1 March 2022), ASG Tay shared that the four tasks are:

  1. Strengthening the Singaporean Core through enhancing the Employment Pass (EP) framework;
  2. Imposing a penalty framework for egregious cases of workplace fairness;
  3. Protecting the confidentiality of whistle-blowers of discriminatory practices, and
  4. Helping mature PMEs to transit into new roles through short term salary support.

"NTUC and SNEF have together deliberated the various challenges and concerns faced to arrive at nine recommendations along four key thrusts, which was presented to Minister Tan See Leng and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on 21 October 2021," ASG Tay said. "I am heartened that the Government has taken the NTUC-SNEF PME Taskforce's recommendations into serious consideration, as reflected in the Budget Statement made by Minister [for Finance] Lawrence Wong".

Task #1: Employment pass framework

ASG Tay shared that the Government, as well as the unions, "recognised the contribution and complementarity" of foreign PMEs to Singapore’s economy, and the need for Singapore to stay open, and competitive. However, this has resulted in "ground concerns, and perceptions" that there is an overreliance on foreign PMEs, which has unnecessary led to an increase in competition in the local job market, and employment. As such, there is an urgent need to safeguard the Singaporean Core, and at the same time curb discriminatory hiring to ensure Singaporean PMEs have access to a level playing field for jobs, while balancing companies’ manpower needs in the immediate, and longer-term.

To do so, the Government (i.e. MOM) has to look at refining the EP framework.

"Today, the eligibility criteria for EP applications generally focus on the individual applicant’s educational qualifications and salary," he shared. "With the qualifying salaries of both the EP, and S Pass holders raised in the past, and with further increases announced in Budget 2022, this will go some way to level the playing field for local PMEs as it ties in with the rise in their median wages. However, I opine that such a system, by itself, is inadequate to level the playing field for our local PMEs".

To that end, ASG Tay is hoping MOM will take in the NTUC-SNEF PME Taskforce’s recommendation for the enhancement of the EP application review process, and include a point(s) system which factors in:

  • Sectoral input;
  • Whether the employer has been hiring and developing local workers, and
  • The diversity of nationalities within the companies.

Through this refined EP framework, ASG Tay believes, it will "provide the flexibility" to let employers secure foreign talents to complement their local PME workforce, and "restrict access to foreign talents" for the errant companies. Further, the refinement enhanced with the workplace fairness legislation, will "give better protection and stronger assurance" to Singapore's local PME populace, especially those who are aged between 40 to 60.

Task #2: Penalty framework

ASG Tay shared: "I am so glad MOM has formed the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness’, and I hope to see a set of recommendations which will include establishing a robust framework to help achieve workplace fairness for our local PMEs."

ASG Tay added that the framework should include measures to strengthen enforcement against errant companies, and management personnel who adopt unfair practices and require their remedial action. In addition, the measures "should also be supported by" grievance handling processes that will be entrenched to facilitate the therapeutic resolution of grievances at company level for Singapore's local PMEs.

This will be an important move because "more needs to be done" to penalise the small proportion of egregious companies that are out to exploit the system, so that local PMEs can continue to receive fair opportunities and treatment while maintaining Singapore’s economic competitiveness.

Task #3: Protecting whistle-blowers

ASG Tay was also well-aware that, more often than not, when the Government and the unions hear of discriminatory cases, it is through whistle-blowers.

Hence, there is a need to protecting the confidentiality of whistle-blowers through mandating whistle-blowing policies, and procedures to “ensure that employees can speak up safely, especially with the forthcoming workplace fairness legislation”.

As a suggestion, the ASG shared that the Government can look at incorporating legal protections to promote transparency and fairness by safeguarding employees’ confidentiality, and preventing retaliation by the employer; at mandating policies pushing employers to set up formal grievance-handling processes that are communicated clearly to employees, all while:

  • Ensuring confidentiality of the whistle-blowers, and
  • Prohibiting retaliation against employees, ex-employees, and potential employees, who report discrimination or harassment.

“In my engagements, I have heard from various HR professionals and PMEs who have witnessed or experienced discriminatory practices at work. However, in most cases, they do not report such practices for fear of potential reprisals or consequences in their workplace or in their industry,” ASG Tay shared.

He added that this is, and will be, beneficial for those who experienced workplace discrimination or harassment to come forward, so that problems can be resolved, and positive norms established.

Task #4: Transitioning of mature PMEs

Regarding this point, ASG Tay drew reference to surveys conducted with local PMEs, and reiterated the challenges they faced at the workplace due to their age, for instance.

The ASG shared that he is heartened that in this Budget, the Jobs Growth Incentive (JGI), which supports employers to expand local hiring from September 2020 to March 2022, will be extended to September 2022.

“This will better encourage and support companies in hiring our mature PMEs and ensure that mature PMEs get the opportunities they need and deserve,” ASG Tay added.

He hopes that, in the longer term, and with the aging population, the JGI “can be translated or even entrenched” to a permanent short-term salary support initiative to assist Singapore’s mature PMEs – in which he suggests can be done by helping companies, who hire unemployed mature PMEs, in mitigating their costs, and risks associated with hiring this group of PMEs, who may possess the relevant skills, and experience needed by the companies.

“This will also allow companies to assess the mature PMEs’ suitability for the job roles and continue to keep them in the companies’ workforce,” ASG Tay explained.

Also readWorkfare, foreign worker policies, tax burden distribution: Top-of-mind issues for Singapore's Manpower Minister from Budget 2022

Image / MCI

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