PM Lee: “When MAS raises an eyebrow, the banks take it very seriously”

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PM Lee: “When MAS raises an eyebrow, the banks take it very seriously”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong used some of his National Day Rally speech to remind the finance and technology sectors about the importance of hiring local talent. But he also reiterated that Singapore would not close the door on skilled immigrants.

“We often hear complaints about financial institutions and IT companies hiring too many foreigners,” Lee said in his address. “Both these sectors indeed have a large share of work pass holders. This is because we are a business hub. The finance and IT companies here perform regional and global functions, which require both local and foreign talent and expertise. Plus, finance and IT are growing sectors, where the skills are in short supply not just in Singapore but in many countries,” he added.

Financial institutions and tech firms have also “recruited many Singaporeans, and groomed the promising ones to take on senior and international positions”, he said. “Had we not allowed them to import the EPs [Employment Pass holders] they needed, the companies would not have come here, and Singaporeans would have had fewer opportunities,” said Lee.

However, a few companies have not been “fair employers to Singaporeans”. “They hire from their own countries, using familiar links and old boys’ networks, rather than on merit. And they give foreigners the jobs and opportunities, and only make token gestures with locals. That naturally causes problems,” he said.

Lee told the finance and tech industries that government agencies deal with these transgressions firmly. “For example, when the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) receives a complaint about HR practices in a bank, it investigates thoroughly. If the complaint is valid, MAS will speak to the bank, at a senior level. When MAS raises an eyebrow, the banks take it very seriously. They report back to their HQ, and make adjustments,” said Lee. When the Infocomm Media Development Authority does the same with IT companies, “they too take note”, he added.

Singapore will gradually and progressively tighten the criteria for EP and S passes over time. “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,” said Lee, who also announced that the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) guidelines will be enshrined into law.

Nevertheless, in a possible nod to future work-pass policies, Lee said Singapore is “determined to stay open”. This will likely please current expats in the finance sector, some of whom have found it hard to find new jobs during the pandemic.

“Foreigners who are here in Singapore strengthen our team. They are our colleagues, and our neighbours and friends. During Covid-19, some have endured personal hardships, perhaps separated from families who are abroad, or stuck outside Singapore and unable to return home here,” he said. “We must not turn our backs on them, and give the impression that Singapore is becoming xenophobic and hostile to foreigners. It would gravely damage our reputation as an international hub. It would cost us investments, jobs and opportunities. It would be disastrous for us and most of all, it is not who we aspire to be,” he added.

Photo by Tomas Vyšniauskas on Unsplash

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