THE Manpower Ministry (MOM) is discussing with businesses how best to ease the rules so that foreign workers can switch employers under specified circumstances.

The aim is to help reduce the turnover of experienced workers who now must be sent home should their employers go bust, fail to pay them or are abusive.

In announcing the move in Parliament yesterday, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said: "This (lifting the restrictions) is something that MOM has been looking at for some time and I am keen to take it further, if possible."

He was responding to a call by Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) for the restrictions to be lifted as it tends to stop workers from airing their problems for fear of being sent home.

Currently, work permit holders, except for maids and construction workers, cannot change employers.

But even for maids or construction workers, they must first get a letter of consent from their current boss before they can move.

In making his call, Mr Yeo, who is chairman of foreign workers group Migrant Workers' Centre, asked for the MOM to consider letting workers change bosses only under certain circumstances.

For example, if a worker is nearing the end of his contract, has legitimate grievances against his boss or if his employer agrees to a a transfer.

Mr Yeo also said that while surveys by his centre show that generally, foreign workers are happy to be in Singapore, more can be done to ensure they are paid fairly and have good accommodation.

He said the bulk of complaints handled by his centre in the past five years were disputes on salary payment and the way their pay is calculated.

These can be resolved if employers are required to transfer by Giro the salaries to the workers' accounts, said Mr Yeo.

He also urged the MOM to raise standards of foreign worker dormitories by tightening regulations and enforcing them.

Minister Tan said he will consider Mr Yeo's Giro suggestion. He also said the MOM is drawing up new rules for dormitories and will build more of these facilities.

Mr Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi and Senior Minister of State Amy Khor took turns to lay out the ministry's priorities, responding to questions from more than 20 MPs.

Mr Tan told the House the Government will focus on creating good jobs for Singaporeans and training them for the jobs. It is also revamping the continuing education and training model.

Targeted help will be given as well. Low-wage workers in the landscape sector will come under a compulsory progressive wage model which will see their pay go up, while professionals, executives and managers may get more help from unions and the MOM when they are locked in dispute with their companies.

Firms that put their workers at risk, especially at construction sites, will be dealt with severely.

But those who worry about further foreign worker curbs can breathe easy. Mr Tan said: "We are not introducing further tightening measures this year, with the exception of the increase in foreign worker levies for the construction sector."

The curbs are already showing in the services sector, he noted. The number of S Pass holders rose by just 1,000 in the second half of last year, far fewer than the 8,100 in the second half of 2012.