Singapore's labour policies will always be friendly towards employers that give Singaporeans a fair shot at jobs, even as the inflow of foreign workers is tightened.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say gave this assurance in Parliament yesterday following his ministry's announcement last week that, from Oct 1, companies must state openly the salary range of the professional, managerial and executive (PME) jobs when advertising their vacancies in the national jobs bank.
The move is to prevent Singaporeans from being short-changed, the ministry had said.
Yesterday, Mr Lim indicated the problem is not widespread.
"By and large, most employers do show enough commitment in giving Singaporean job applicants fair consideration," he said.
Only a small group will have their hiring processes scrutinised more closely by the ministry, either because they have a lower proportion of Singaporeans compared with their industry peers or are deemed by the ministry not to be fully committed to hiring Singaporeans.
Mr Lim added that his ministry is also looking at companies whose human resource (HR) director is a foreigner and which have a "high concentration" of foreign professionals from the same countries as the HR directors.
"I'm not accusing them of being biased," he said, adding that he just wanted to convince himself whether this concern of many PMEs is well-founded or unfounded.
Mr Lim, the former labour chief, also faced a barrage of questions on other labour issues, such as companies' hiring policies and employment numbers, from Members of Parliament such as Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and labour MPs Patrick Tay and Zainal Sapari.
He said the sharp fall in employment in the first quarter of this year was partly caused by annual ups and downs in the hiring of workers. Another factor is that employment growth was much slower in manufacturing, construction and parts of the services sector, he added.
"I will not jump to any conclusion based on a one-quarter outcome," he said, adding that there were still many more jobs available in the same quarter.
Employment fell by 6,100 in the first quarter of this year, reducing the total number of workers employed to 3,617,800. The last time the economy saw such poor job market performance was in the second quarter of 2009, when employment fell by 7,700 .
However, there are more than 72,000 jobs offered by 20,000 employers in the government-run national jobs bank, he said. "More than half are actually PMET jobs."
Besides matching jobs with workers, Mr Lim said the jobs bank can help show "any early signs of skills deficit", a situation where workers lack the skills for available jobs.
To develop training programmes to arm them with suitable skills and to identify future trends, Mr Lim said the Government will continue to take the small-group approach of forming tripartite committees, which has taken root in 20 industries.
Mr Lim then noted, in a barb directed at the Workers' Party, that "there was a call in this House that we should go for a complete stop in terms of the importation of work permit holders.
"I think that would be overdone," he said. During the campaigning of the 2011 General Election, the Workers' Party had criticised the Government for letting in too many foreign workers.
Yesterday, Mr Lim acknowledged that companies are feeling the squeeze from the slowdown in the inflow of foreign workers.
However, he added: "We did the right thing by not freezing suddenly the importation of work permit holders."