Most businesses and the labour movement yesterday voiced support for the new government rules that require employers to consider Singaporeans for job vacancies before turning to foreign candidates, though a minority had reservations.
From August next year, firms with more than 25 employees must advertise any vacancy for professional, managerial or executive jobs paying less than $12,000 a month on a new jobs bank run by the Workforce Development Agency.
The position must be open to Singaporeans and only after 14 days of advertising can companies apply for an employment pass.
Said Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday: "The framework is not about 'Hire Singaporeans First, or Hire Singaporeans Only'. What the government is doing is to help them get a fair opportunity."
He made clear that the advertising requirement is not meant to guarantee Singaporeans jobs. "However, there will be more transparency. Employers will now have to consider qualified Singaporeans available for the job, instead of taking the expedient route of hiring foreign professionals."
The new framework is no "silver bullet" as fair hiring boils down to attitudes and mindsets. "It is neither possible to change mindsets overnight nor legislate the problem away."
Meanwhile, firms with disproportionately fewer Singaporeans in PME roles compared to their sector peers will face greater scrutiny. While the Ministry of Manpower would not name such firms, it would require more information from them and may curtail their work pass privileges.
The Singapore Business Federation yesterday described the move as a "light touch" approach that should not delay the hiring process or add to costs.
However, the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce's Jonathan Asherson voiced concern that the mandatory job ad may be challenging for employers needing to fill multiple EP positions and mean less time to look beyond Singapore shores for candidates.
While Singapore still holds its traditional advantages over other investment destinations in the region, access to a diverse workforce is a key attraction too, and the SICC "hopes that MOM will recognise this need for a foreign component in MNCs' workforce and not mandate MNCs to advertise for such positions".
DBS economist Irvin Seah noted that the new measures "will not deter companies bent on hiring foreigners, but will definitely make the hiring process more cumbersome and less efficient".
While this is unlikely to affect businesses already based here, UOB economist Francis Tan thinks that the "administrative rigidity" this adds to the labour market may cause an MNC considering Singapore as a base to "think twice".
The National Trades Union Congress, which has lobbied for labour market testing since 2011 was satisfied with the measures as a "major manpower policy shift for local PMEs", said Patrick Tay, NTUC director for PMEs and a member of parliament.
This fair consideration framework, which has been months in the making, drew on feedback from many including HR practitioners, those in executive search firms and senior Singaporean executives, MOM said.
Complaints about unfair hiring practices lodged with the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices corroborate the feedback. More than half the 194 complaints received in the first half of this year related to nationality.
The financial services sector has previously been discussed in parliament as one with many such complaints. The Association of Banks in Singapore said that it would "assess the impact these rules will have on the hiring process among the banks".
Citi Singapore head of corporate affairs Adam Rahman said: "As a global institution serving international clients, it is essential that we strike the right balance. It is important to have some foreign talent who have global perspectives, expertise and skills to complement the overall development of Singapore as an international financial hub, and also enable the transfer of skills to the local staff."
Standard Chartered sees this as a "move to create more opportunities for Singaporeans in the financial sector", and will study the impact on its human capital needs and review its policies and processes, said Peter Hatt, StanChart head, HR, Singapore and Southeast Asia.
Recruitment specialist Robert Walters' South-east Asia managing director, Mark Ellwood, said that within financial services, certain skills are limited among locals, such as product knowledge of financial instruments, regulatory knowledge and compliance, and experience in complex M&A deals. But he adds that his clients have been "very focused on hiring local talent wherever they can".
Singapore National Employers' Federation executive director, Koh Juan Kiat, said that to help employers plan their hiring better, it may be good to exempt jobs with critical skills that are in short supply.