“Singaporeans first” – what is it all about?

Singaporeans first

Philippines’s popular fast food chain Jollibee opened its doors in Singapore two weeks ago. Quite an exciting news for food-loving Singaporeans, right?

But the situation turned a little sour when rumours started spreading on the company’s alleged preference towards Filipino workers; angry Singaporeans even threatened to boycott the restaurant!

In the end, the company officially declared that the rumours were false, and the fast food joint was able to open its doors without major incidents.

The important takeaway, in my opinion, was that discrimination against Singaporeans should not be allowed. After all, if we saw a job advertisement like the one below, it will confirm make our blood boil right?


Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. A Yahoo! article in 2011 reported on a company which came under fire for a recruitment advertisement for an Architectural Structural coordinator – get this – with “preferred Indian citizenship”.

This issue was also further triggered by an article in the Lianhe Zaobao, when the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) came out to confirm that there has been a rise in number of complaints of unfair hiring practices towards Singaporeans in the financial institutions. In this case, these organisations were contacted and promised to monitor the situation more closely to ensure that hiring was based on merit.

Cannot la, this is ridiculous! Most would agree that this is an obvious discrimination in the work environment.

Can you imagine if people were to do such things in Europe or in the US? People would be called racist, they’d be taken to court, and maybe even lose their business license!

However, taking a step back, does this mean that the “Singaporeans first” policy is also a form of discrimination too? In favour of the Singaporeans, that is.

Some might argue, yes, it is discrimination. Just like how employers should not hire a person based on race, gender, or appearance, nationality should not be a factor either.

I am of the other perspective though, that this is not discrimination but just a matter of re-prioritisation.

We are not forbidding or stopping businesses from hiring foreigners, but only doing so if there are no qualified locals to take the job.

After all it makes sense to put this into practice – the government needs to look after the interest of its people first. This is what makes being a citizen more valuable than a PR or a foreigner. This is what makes me want to continue living and contributing to the economy here.

The same practice can be seen in countries like Malaysia and Australia. Some companies in the US, like HyPro, are also committed to hiring qualified locals first before moving on to applicants of other nationalities.

These are all different forms of affirmative actions based on nationality, and are steps in the right direction to ensure jobs are being made available to the citizens.

As Singapore looks to reduce the number of foreign labour, perhaps we can look to Hong Kong and its policies. Although the country has a large expatriate population, employers who want to hire a foreigner must prove that the job cannot be done by a local. They must also match compensation and benefits to current market rates to prevent managers from finding lower-cost replacements.

Along with other policies such as higher levies and tighter quotas of foreign workers, hopefully organisations can be more active in recruiting and developing Singaporean talent to promote a true “Singaporeans first” work environment.


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