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Squeeze on S'pore's 70,000 mid-skilled foreigners
Publication Date : 28-02-2013
About 70,000 foreign workers are at risk of not having their S Passes renewed when they expire.
This is because a new tiered system for approving S Passes is being introduced, which stipulates more experienced pass holders have to be employed at higher pay to continue working here.
The policy, said experts, is aimed at levelling the playing field for Singaporean workers, who may be losing out to foreign counterparts with the same qualifications and experience because the latter command lower pay.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said about one in two S Pass holders will be affected by the new system.
There were 142,400 S Pass holders here as at the end of last year. S Pass holders are mid- skilled foreign workers who earn at least S$2,000 a month. This will be raised to S$2,200 from July.
The new tiered system will also kick in from the same date.
Older applicants who have better qualifications and more years of experience will now need to be employed at higher minimum pay in order to secure their S Passes.
Exactly how much higher will, however, not be known because MOM will not be giving details of these salary tiers.
The ministry said the tougher requirements are meant to "level the playing field for locals" and encourage employers to bring in "higher calibre S Pass holders".
Zainudin Nordin, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said it is about making firms pay the true value of S Pass holders, and "to be fair to our locals".
Employers told The Straits Times yesterday that the changes will force them to relook the pay of their mid-skilled foreign workers. Some prefer to hold on to experienced S Pass holders instead of finding local replacements, and would raise pay if need be.
Many such workers at construction firm HSL Constructor already earn S$2,400 to S$2,500, which managing director Lim Choo Leng hopes will be high enough for their passes to be safe.
But he is open to raising their pay, adding: "We are so short of people already. If they are good, we will try to keep them."
The story is similar in the food and beverage industry, where S Pass holders tend to be managers.
As many firms there hire experienced S Pass workers at low salaries, "a large jump" in pay might be needed just to keep them, said Fish & Co deputy managing director Hoo Hoe Keat.
Bringing in young foreigners on minimum S Pass pay is not preferred, as they will have to be trained from scratch, he added.
OCBC economist Selena Ling expects the "wage shock" to be significant, especially for industries where local replacements are hard to get.
Bosses said they hoped for more clarity on the salary tiers. Though the MOM is unlikely to set out explicit criteria, its online Self Assessment Tool will be updated in a few months, letting bosses assess the eligibility of workers under the new criteria.
Uncertainty, however, is no stranger to S Pass holders such as Luningning Estabillo, 32.
The Filipino assistant restaurant manager at Fish & Co had her S Pass renewed last month, but some of her friends have not been as lucky. Some on three-year contracts could not get a renewal after the two-year term. "You're thinking you still have one more year to work, but then you have to go home, unprepared," she said.