This was my speech in Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on 14 March 2013.
When Singapore ramped up its industrialisation in the 1960s, one key reason for attracting MNCs, in addition to driving growth and creating jobs, was for these companies to transfer managerial and technical skills to Singaporeans. Subsequent decades saw the many companies transition from expatriate to local leadership, and many Singaporeans rose up the ranks.
However, with the influx of foreign skilled workers in the last decade, we have seen a reversal of progress in this area. Many private sector companies now have their professional and managerial ranks filled with foreigners, although many of them would be classified as ‘locals’ because they have obtained Singapore PR (permanent residence) or citizenship. Even the junior professional positions are often staffed by foreigners, when our local graduates should have no problem meeting the job requirements.
The Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) said that half of the employment-related complaints they received last year were to do with alleged discrimination against locals . Many Singaporeans have also expressed frustration at the enclaves of employees from the same country found in some companies.
The cause of the problem may lie not with human resource managers and recruiters, but with hiring managers, who are often foreign middle managers who may prefer recruiting fellow countrymen to work under them. If TAFEP is to be effective in tackling this problem, it will need to reach out beyond the HR department and educate these middle managers to hire based on merit rather than nationality.
A mindset change is needed in the way many of our companies recruit and promote talent. Foreign talent is not automatically better than local talent. I call on the government to take more robust steps to address these concerns, and ensure that Singaporeans do not lose out unfairly to foreigners, and we can build a stronger Singaporean core in all our companies.