Patrick Tay: PMEs Deserve Fair Treatment and Equal Opportunities

NTUC’s Assistant Secretary-General wants more to be done to protect Singaporean PMEs at the workplace, and to enhance their employment and employability.
By Ian Tan Hanhonn 01 Mar 2022

More can be done to enhance the workplace fairness, employment, and employability of Singaporean PMEs, said NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Patrick Tay in his Budget Debate speech on 1 March 2022.

Mr Tay’s speech saw him elaborate on four points. The points included strengthening the Singaporean Core through the enhancement of the Employment Pass (EP) framework; imposing penalties for egregious cases of workplace fairness; protecting the confidentiality of whistle-blowers of discriminatory practices; and helping mature PMEs transit into new roles with short term salary support.

“We recognise the growing need to ensure PMEs are adequately protected, have access to good jobs and are equipped with relevant skills. As we prepare for the new normal, it is important that we continue to entrench progressive and fair practices at workplaces and extend schemes to support our local PMEs, especially the more vulnerable ones,” he said.

Enhancing the EP Framework

Mr Tay added that while many local PMEs recognise the contribution and complementarity of foreign PMEs to Singapore’s economy, there remains concerns that an overreliance on foreign PMEs has led to an unnecessary increase in competition in the local job market and employment.

“To safeguard our Singaporean core and curb discriminatory hiring, we must ensure that Singaporean PMEs have access to a level playing field for jobs while at the same time, balance companies’ manpower needs in the immediate and longer-term,” he said.

Mr Tay said he felt that the current EP framework, which is generally focused on the individual applicant’s educational qualifications and salary, is inadequate to level the playing field for local PMEs.

He urged the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to consider the PME Taskforce’s recommendations for the enhancement of the EP application review process and include a point(s) system which factors in sectoral inputs, employers’ hiring and development profile of local workers, and the diversity of nationalities within the companies.

“We believe that such a system will provide the flexibility to let employers who have justified genuinely and adequately, secure foreign talents to complement their local PME workforce; and restrict access to foreign talents for the errant companies,” he said.

Egregious Cases of Workplace Fairness

Mr Tay added that more needs to be done to penalise egregious companies that are out to exploit the system the Government has in place.

“I am glad MOM has formed the Tripartite Committee on Workplace Fairness’ and I hope to see a set of recommendations which will include establishing a robust framework to help achieve workplace fairness for our local PMEs,” he said.

He added that the framework should include measures to strengthen enforcement against errant companies who adopt unfair practices, requiring their remedial action.

The measures should also include grievance handling processes to facilitate the therapeutic resolution of grievances at company level for local PMEs.

Protecting Whistle-Blowers of Discriminatory Practices

Mr Tay shared that some PMEs had witnessed or experienced discriminatory practices at work but chose to remain quiet out of fear of potential repercussions. He urged these workers to come forward, so that problems can be resolved, and positive norms can be established.

“We will therefore need to incorporate legal protections to promote transparency and fairness by safeguarding employees’ confidentiality and preventing retaliation by the employer. In this aspect, I hope that policies can be put in place to mandate that employers set up formal grievance handling processes that are communicated clearly to employees,” he said.

Short Term Salary Support for Mature PMEs

Citing the findings of the NTUC-SNEF PME Taskforce Report, Mr Tay said mature PMEs are in a particularly precarious and vulnerable situation when they are retrenched.

While he was heartened to learn that the Jobs Growth Incentive will be extended to September 2022 in this budget, he hopes that the JGI can be translated to a permanent short-term salary support initiative to assist mature PMEs.

He said: “This is done by helping companies, who hire unemployed mature PMEs, in mitigating their costs and risks associated with hiring this group of PMEs, who hold the relevant and required skills needed by the companies.

“This will also allow companies to assess the mature PMEs’ suitability for the job roles and continue to keep them in the companies’ workforce.”