| SINGAPORE, March 18
SINGAPORE, March 18 Banks and other firms in
Singapore are under pressure to hire more locals and give them
opportunities to advance as the government of the wealthy Asian
financial centre tries to contain public anger over its policy
to attract foreign talent.
Singapore, a small island-nation with few natural resources,
has historically been welcoming of foreigners who tended to take
up lower-paying jobs that were not popular with locals.
But the competition has become intense in the past decade as
the city-state grew into a banking and wealth management hub
that attracts foreign executives and other specialised workers.
Some lawmakers, facing a backlash over rising costs and the
open-door labour policy, have called for requirements that
locals be considered for managerial and professional positions
before foreign candidates.
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin told parliament last
week that he and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam,
who is also the finance minister, had met senior members of the
financial industry urging them to develop a local talent
Tan said there had been complaints of foreign managers
preferring to hire fellow countrymen and his ministry was
One "fairly prominent company" had its work pass privileges
suspended after it advertised for workers of a certain
nationality, he said. He did not name the company.
Complaints about alleged bias against Singaporeans in
workplaces accounted for half those received last year,
according to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment
Practices, an organisation backed by the Manpower Ministry,
Foreign banks in Singapore contacted by Reuters declined
comment or did not respond to questions. Citigroup, the
largest banking employer in Singapore, said more than 80 percent
of its nearly 10,000 staff in the city-state were Singapore
citizens or permanent residents.
The financial sector is a particular focus because it
accounts for around 12 percent of Singapore's gross domestic
product and employs about 6 percent of the workforce.
Executive search firms said the government must ensure that
what is good for Singapore's workers does not hurt its image as
an open economy. Any attempt to regulate hiring could backfire
if the rules were confusing or poorly implemented.
"When it is not possible to hire locally or a niche skill
set is required, the process of hiring a foreign executive
should be straightforward and transparent, said Mark Hall, vice
president and country manager for Kelly Services Singapore.
Tan stressed that Singapore will not pursue an approach
requiring companies to choose a Singaporean regardless of merit.
"What we do need is to ensure companies are fair in
assessing all potential candidates and to deter and punish any
form of discriminatory or biased decision-making on the part of
individuals," he said.
Gerald Giam, a member of parliament from the opposition
Workers' Party, said the influx of skilled foreign workers has
led to immigrants replacing locals in senior positions, unlike
in previous decades when many Singaporeans rose up the ranks as
multinationals moved their operations to the city-state.
"Even the junior professional positions are often staffed by
foreigners, when our local graduates should have no problem
meeting the job requirements," he said.
About 40 percent of the 5.3 million people in Singapore are
now foreign. In 2000, foreigners made up 25 percent of the
population of 4 million.
New employment passes for workers in the financial sector
rose to 8,700 in 2010 from 3,300 in 2001, Ministry of Manpower
Some foreign-born bank executives have taken up Singapore
citizenship, including DBS Group Chief Executive
Piyush Gupta and Standard Chartered's Singapore head