“They hire from their own countries, using familiar links and old boys’ networks, rather than openly on merit and they give foreigners the jobs and opportunities, and only make token gestures with locals. That naturally causes problems.”
Government agencies deal with these transgressions firmly, he said, adding that interventions by agencies are “quiet, but effective”.
Mr Lee added that there is a need to assure Singaporeans that Employment Pass and S Pass holders are of the “right standard”.
He said that “a practical and reasonable indication of quality, the standard, is how much the employer is prepared to pay for the work pass holder”.
Therefore, to qualify for an Employment Pass or S Pass, there are salary cut-offs, which have risen in tandem with the rise in Singaporeans’ wages, Mr Lee said. Last year, the authorities raised the cut-offs twice, he noted.
For the financial sector, where salaries are higher, Singapore set a higher cut-off, he said.
Singapore will continue to tighten the criteria for Employment Passes and S Passes over time, although not suddenly or sharply, which would hurt businesses, but gradually and progressively, Mr Lee said.
“This will ensure that work pass holders come in where we most need them and we won’t be flooded with more than we can absorb, doing jobs for which Singaporeans are qualified and available.”
SIMILAR APPROACH TO DISPUTES OVER SALARIES, WRONGFUL DISMISSAL
While “writing TAFEP guidelines into the law is a major move” philosophically, as it signals that Singapore does not tolerate discrimination at workplaces, Mr Lee said that in practice, Singapore hopes to operate in a similar way as today, “except better”.
“We should still resolve workplace disputes informally and amicably, if at all possible. The legal redress should be a last recourse, one which is seldom needed,” he said. Its existence will cause parties to work harder to settle the dispute, through conciliation and mediation,” he added.
The approach towards disputes over discrimination will be modelled on how companies deal with disputes over salaries or wrongful dismissal.
“In such disputes, conciliation and mediation have to be tried first. Only when those fail, does the matter go before an Employment Claims Tribunal, which will arbitrate and decide the case.”
A tribunal will similarly be created to deal with workplace discrimination, he said.
“This will protect workers against discrimination based on nationality. It will also prohibit other kinds of discrimination covered by TAFEP. Women will get better protection and discrimination based on age, race, religion, and disability will also be disallowed,” he said.