Singapore: Lawyers Urge Employer Caution in Addressing New Rules Favoring Singaporean Workers
Oct. 23—Lawyers are advising foreign companies in Singapore to advertise job openings on a government website rather than try to get an exemption from the new rule requiring this.
Before companies can apply for employment passes for foreign staff, the new Fair Consideration Framework mandates that they make the positions available to Singaporeans on the official Jobs Bank website. The framework, which took effect Aug. 1, is part of the state’s attempt to appease citizens who feel an influx of foreigners in recent years has been a strain on infrastructure and made it harder for locals to find work. Public discontent in 2011 led to the worst election results ever for the ruling People’s Action Party, which dominates politics in the authoritarian island nation.
Exemptions for Intracompany Transfers
The framework makes exceptions so that corporations don’t have to advertise in the case of intracompany transfers, which often involve what the Ministry of Manpower calls specialists with “an advanced level of expertise.”
In the more than two months that the framework has been in place, however, practitioners have found it is risky to seek exemptions for specialists because the process can drag out the recruitment period considerably. Employers find it more efficient to follow the standard practice of listing new jobs on the state website for 14 days, after which they’re free to hire anyone—foreign or local.
“It’s beneficial to advertise from the outset, knowing that the length of the processing time is actually set,” Mark Chowdhry, a lawyer and director of Magrath Global, an immigration consultancy, told the Asia-Pacific Global Mobility Summit in Singapore Oct. 14. “And you don’t worry then about the approvals, whether the Ministry of Manpower will consider that to be an internal transfer.”
Mark Buchanan, a partner at immigration law firm Fragomen Worldwide, agreed it’s safer to get the advertising requirement out of the way, since the government is “reluctant” to grant exemptions because its “objective is to give opportunities to Singaporeans.”
Authorities Have ‘Wide Discretion’
The framework specifies that firms can avoid advertising if they:
• have no more than 25 employees,
• are offering a job with a monthly salary of at least S $12,000 (U.S. $9,500) or
• intend to bring in a foreign worker for one month or less.
This is in addition to the exception for employees on intracompany transfers, who must have worked for the company at least one year as managers, executives or specialists with “proprietary knowledge of the organization’s service, research, equipment, techniques or management,” the manpower ministry said on its website.
The problem, Buchanan said, is that the government and the private sector may not agree on the meaning of “specialist.”
“The definition is very wide, and a lot of it is under the discretion of authorities,” Buchanan told Bloomberg BNA on the sidelines of the summit.
He added that it is impractical to advertise for a new job that lasts only two months rather than fly in a current employee.
Businesses that advertise on the Jobs Bank website but still opt for a foreign recruit must “provide a reason for not being able to hire a Singaporean” to help the government adjust education and training to fill domestic skills gaps, the Ministry of Manpower said.
The ministry also plans to “identify and engage firms that may have scope to improve their hiring and career development practices.” In other words, the government will investigate employers that employ fewer Singaporeans than other companies in the same industry and then provide a plan for the company to improve the rate of local employment.
“If a firm is uncooperative or does not adhere to the plan, it should expect to have its work pass privileges curtailed,” the ministry warned.
This has raised concerns among businesses because they don’t know what local employment rates the government will find acceptable or how it will choose companies for comparison purposes.
“The guideline of the framework has not yet been released,” Chowdhry said, “so it is like going in a dark room and not knowing where the exit is.”
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Details of the Fair Consideration Framework can be found at http://www.mom.gov.sg/employment-practices/fair-consideration-framework/Pages/fair-consideration-framework.aspx.