, Singapore

Is the Jobs Bank fair to Singapore?

By Chris Reed

The Jobs Bank is now live in Singapore. This is a "Singaporean-first" policy for all companies where this didn’t exist before. It’s a great principle apart from the small fact that in many people’s view everyone who wants a job in Singapore can find a job. It may not be their dream job with that million-dollar salary, presidential title, and corner office overlooking Marina Bay but it will be a good job for a good firm in a great place.

The new law for all employers over 25 employees recruiting for professionals on salaries from $3k up to $12k is part of MOM’s Singapore’s Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). There is great debate about whether this policy is just another way of forcing firms to choose a Singaporean employee over an expat even if they are not qualified or don’t have the experience through fear that any rejected Singaporean candidate will complaint to MOM and give the firm a black mark.

Singapore has virtually full employment. There are vacancies everywhere. Every shop and restaurant has signs saying walk-in interviews or job vacancy. Every firm I speak to, large and small, has many job vacancies that they can’t fill.

On opening the Job Bank had 16,000 vacancies on its first day. As I write this on August 4th there is 46,000 vacancies that have not yet been filled. This doesn’t include the tens of thousands of F&B jobs and Construction jobs which fall below the $3k salary mark. MOM also introduced a new benchmark of a $3k monthly salary for foreigners (excluding construction workers, F&B, and domestic helpers, etc).

So what’s the problem? Singaporeans can’t fill them all and don’t want to fill them all. But they also don’t want any foreigners to fill those roles too. It’s a contradictory stance. There is also a myth that “foreigners stole my job” which in my view is not black and white but is a convenient excuse if you can’t get that dream job or you do get beaten by a foreigner for it.

It’s like an England football player saying that he can’t get into the England football team because a foreigner is in his club’s first team in his position. Surely it’s up to the wannabe England footballer to work harder, gain more experience by potentially moving to another country and improve their qualifications so that they dislodge the foreigner from the first team?

Every employer here would prefer to employ a Singaporean; it’s much less hassle and I agree with the principle of employing people from the country that you’re in. However, I also believe that you should only ever employ the BEST person for the job regardless of skin, country, sexual orientation, religion, etc. While this law protects Singaporeans, there is no law to protect gays or other countries' people from discrimination at work, for example.

If there is no perfect Singaporean candidate, how can you employ one? There are innumerably talented and experienced Singaporeans in the marketplace but they tend to have the jobs they want or know how to get them by networking, using LinkedIn, and doing an amazing job so that they get headhunted.

A great example of this shooting yourself-in-the-foot view of employment here is the construction industry. Singaporeans don’t want to see any more foreigners in Singapore. However, they also still want a brand-new MRT, a new HDB, a new school, a new road, a new office building, a new hawker centre, a new Sports Hub.

No Singaporean wants a construction job; who does? I admire anyone willing to work outdoors in 33C heat, 6-7 days a week for 12-15 hours a day for $300 a month, no benefits, with no rest and terrible accommodation. Yet they still object to expats who do want to do that. Why?

As a direct consequence of this process, several major construction projects worth $2 billion have been put back such as the extension to Gardens by the Bay and the Science Park which if finished would attract even more tourists which helps the economy which ultimately funds Singapore. The economics just don’t add up.

The same applies in F&B and hospitality. There are foreigner workers who would love doing these jobs but under current quota restrictions they can’t. Why, because there aren’t enough Singaporeans to fill their quota to balance it out as they don’t want to work in F&B or hospitality.

What happens then? Service is terrible because these places have no staff. Who complains? Everyone, including the Singaporeans who probably objected to the very foreign workers coming in who could have served them. It's classic cutting your nose off to spite your face. It makes absolutely no sense.

I would love to see a marketing campaign here promoting the benefits that foreign workers in construction or F&B make to the community. Or one that shows how SME’s created by expats employ Singaporeans and bring experience/training/jobs to the country. However, I think that there is more chance of me becoming president than this happening.

The new rules around the Jobs Bank applies more around the professionals but the effect and principle is the same. Forcing firms to go through the process of advertising for 14 days on the Jobs Bank, interviewing, and then either rejecting a Singaporean and risking a complaint to MOM or taking a Singaporean on who is not qualified or doesn’t have the experience.

So in the latter scenario a Singaporean gets the dream job because an employer is too frightened to risk an MOM black mark. What happens next if they can’t do the job because they don’t have the experience or qualifications? Will they be fired like anyone else would be? Will they cause the firm to lose money and potentially close the company down or have to lay off people? Will they cause the firm to be sued with the same effect?

This is putting undue pressure on Singaporeans. Is it fair to them to ask them to do a job that they can’t? If they are terrible at the job and do get fired, then you will see several things happen:

1)     That person will have a black mark against their name making it hard for them to get another job

2)     The Jobs Bank policy will start gaining a bad reputation for forcing the wrong person on firms and costing the company and therefore costing the economy

3)     Firms will simply relocate to Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Indonesia where it’s easier to employ expats or there’s a greater choice of local talent who in most of these countries will want to be paid less than Singaporeans.

Ideally they will find the right qualified and experienced Singaporean candidate as then everyone is happy. But if that was possible they would be doing it now, wouldn’t they?

There are two other things that will start happening. 1) When a job should be paying around $9-10k it will now pay $12k to avoid having to be listed on the Job Bank and 2) SME’s who employ 20-25 people will be reluctant to employ another person and then have to start having all their jobs go through the Jobs Bank. Both these avoidance measures means that companies won’t grow and will be overpaying.

There is one more aspect of this policy which may be unintended. It will drive up salaries of Singaporeans to unrealistic and unsustainable levels and potentially put SME’s who employ 90% of people in Singapore out of business for fear of missing out on that Singaporean candidate or fear of getting an MOM black mark for not employing one. It will also put off MNC’s from employing people here because the cost no longer equates to experience to do the job.

There will also be increased job turnover which is already a problem in Singapore. Now that Singaporeans know how many thousands of jobs are being advertised the moment they see that the grass is greener on the Jobs Bank they will be off for a higher salary and better title. This decreases loyalty and in turn will decrease training and investment in people, as why would you bother to invest if people will move at the drop of a hat?

That is not a situation that benefits anyone but the candidate and only then if the job they want exists and if they get paid the money they are owed. If they are paid over $4.5k they have no protection from MOM on this matter. Just because employers say they will pay you and have a contract which says they will pay you does not mean that they will or actually have to pay you.

The principle behind the policy is sound. To grow a “Singaporean” core of employees. No one is arguing with this. However, it overlooks the fact that you can’t employ people from Singapore just for the sake of it if 1) they don’t apply, 2) they aren’t qualified, 3) they don’t have the experience, and 4) they simply don’t exist.

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