SG Conversations with the MOM: A level playing field
“If you were an employer and you had to chose between two potential new hires: one a Singaporean asking for $2500 and the other a foreigner asking for $2000. Ceteris paribus, who would you hire?”
This was one of the questions posed by one of the participants at a recent “Singapore Conversations” hosted by the MOM.
A very controversial theme was put forward to discuss: “Is there a level playing field between Singaporeans and Foreigners?” To gauge the response, we were asked to put up stickers on a graph – indicating on a scale of 1 – 5. As I kaypoh-ed across the room, I couldn’t help but notice most of the answers were skewed to the “very unlevel” position.
The problem I face with these SG conversations is that it gets people talking about microcosms of their lives. A banking executive would tell you what’s wrong in his world and insists that they face unique problems. A businessman would tell you what’s wrong in his world and insists that they face unique problems. Even if you put little stories together, I am skeptical these voices form an accurate representation of society – it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that everyone in the room worked white collar jobs and almost all spoke fluent English.
One of the members of our group, a businessman spoke fiercely on behalf of employers. For him, he’s tired of the limitations that policymakers have been imposing on his industry. When he speaks, I don’t just hear him, I hear the frustrations of many employers across the country. Dependancy ratio has been tweaked and labour is getting more challenging to acquire.
Just like how this magazine has done, the MOM gave participants a heads-up on how other countries impose protectionist policies to safeguard jobs of their citizens. Most agreed that this country does need some form of barrier to entry when it comes to foreign labour.
I’m not sure about the other participants, but my own takeaway was this – that businesses exist to turn a profit. They don’t cheap-source, they best source yes… but best sourcing does not necessarily mean that a Singaporean would be selected. Between the devil and the deep blue sea, which one would an employer hire?
Singapore is starting to see weakening growth. I can’t speak from the participants, but amongst friends, I know that many disregard this fact as mere “fear mongering” from the government and assume that the country and its economics would always be rosy.
Back to the question my fellow participant posed earlier: “If you were an employer and you had to chose between two potential new hires: one a Singaporean asking for $2500 and the other a foreigner asking for $2000. Ceteris paribus, who would you hire?”
I chose not to answer that question. You can compare apples for apples yes, but unfortunately, the real world is not like this. The real world is more like a fruit salad where apples compare themselves with bananas. Where some unprotected fruits are juiced for all they’re worth – and this is where unions would fill the void where MOM may not.