What the Little India riot in Singapore means for expat banking jobs

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Singapore's reliance on foreign labour - both skilled and unskilled - has come under unwelcome scrutiny again, with concerns expressed that the recent clampdown against migrant workers after a violent riot earlier this month will have wider ramifications for foreign white collar workers.

The December 8th riot - which erupted after a foreign national was killed after being hit by a bus - took place just days before the Government published the results from Reach, its online forum to engage with the country citizens, who comprise 71% of the total population, according to 2013 statistics.

Reach said that in the past year foreign worker policies dominated comments from locals who also expressed concern about the dominance of foreigners in industries such as banking and IT. This is despite a new policy introduced by the government in 2013 for implementation next year to promote the employment of locals under the Fair Consideration Framework, widely considered to be a measured response.

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The riot, which happened in Little India - a part of Singapore popular with tourists and migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent - prompted comments from analysts who said it pointed to the simmering tensions between the nation's citizenry and expat labour - blue collar and white collar - as Singapore tries to find a balance between economic growth and managing the concerns of locals.

Many Singaporeans believe that the dramatic escalation in the standard of living, including property costs, can be attributed to foreigners pushing up demand and therefore prices.

Although the riots have focused attention on the lower end of the labour market, it has prompted concerns that it will spill over into the skilled foreign workforce, given the sentiments expressed on Reach and elsewhere in recent years.

Recruiters across the board over the past year have said clients were increasingly insisting on local candidates only. This follows a government ruling in February that companies must cut the proportion of overseas workers in some industries.

Singapore-based recruitment firm Ambition says there has been "a considerable clamp down" on the hiring of foreign workers in Singapore and a tightening of general visa restrictions.

"This is set to continue as the government continues these measures with the implementation of the Fair Consideration Framework in August 2014. This will ensure that local talent is considered first, but even prior to these measures, we have found that our clients prefer to hire a local when possible."

But, says Ambition, talent pools "remain shallow" in some functions, particularly technology and certain areas of banking and this means foreigners will be required to fulfil these requirements.

"Employers need to mindful that by basing their business out of Singapore, they should always assess the local market first and only when that has been exhausted consider foreign talent. Also when foreign talent is hired, it should be under the understanding part of the reasons for this is to develop local talent pools for the future."

Manpower's Singapore unit has a different view on the issue, with a spokesman saying that roles will be filled by people with the right skills, regardless of nationality.

"In the long run, boosting productivity is key to sustaining business competitiveness and increasing real wages. An employer will hire a worker who has the ideal expertise and experience for the role, regardless of nationality."

Having said that, however, the spokesman says that "...in order to embrace diversity and to bring out the best in employees by hiring the right person for the job, the Singapore government has employment guidelines for fair employment practices that will benefit everyone in the long run."

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