Social and Workplace Enclaves in Singapore

“Singapore’s Shell Employees’ Union president Yeap Tong Ming charged that Singaporeans were retrenched while foreigners kept their jobs during the downturns in 1986 and 1998” – The Straits Times, 1 Nov 2011

“A Singaporean friend of mine, who was then a director in a European multinational corporation located here, told me a few years ago that he specifically directed his human resource department not to hire any graduate from our local universities unless absolutely necessary.”Alex Yeo

“Foreign manpower (should) complements rather than undercuts the skills of the local workforce” – NTUC’s leader and MP Patrick Tay

“We are still addicted to cheap foreign labour in industries like construction. Our low-skilled workers are at a disadvantage today because salaries are quite low with the influx of foreign workers.”Ho Kwon Ping

[UPATED 24 Sep 2013: Almost two years after Askmelah’s highlighted the workplace and social enclave, the singapore Government finally do something, though a tiny step but definitely in the righ direction:

Source: Todayonline

Singaporeans Will Be Given Fairer Chance in Local Jobs Market

With the lax open door policy in the recent years, a unique Singapore phenomenon starts to emerge: Social Enclaves (aka racial or ethnic enclaves) and Workplace Enclaves (aka Job Enclaves or Employment Enclaves).

In the social enclaves, we start to see foreigners of the same nationality start to congregate in some locations E.g. The mainland Chineses can be found commonly in Geylang and Sembawang. Due to language and cultural differences, some immigrants find it hard to converse in English and thus finding hard to fit in and prefer to keep it within their own social circles or to themselves resulting in tragedies sometimes.

In the workplace enclaves, it is known for a number of years that the foreign talents prefers to hire their own kinds (see article below: FTs hiring FTs). This is especially evident in the research and software industries where we began to see the emergence of China-enclave in Research Institutes and Education sectors, Indian-Enclave in the software development and finance depts, The Australian and Europeans in the high tech and banking industry. See this link and you will see almost the entire department is staffed by Chinese Nationals. This phenomenon is often hampered by the hiring managers’ own language capability in English (or the lack of it) and Superiority/Inferiority complex. Discrimination can take place in a variety of subtle ways. There is no reasonable way, for example, to determine if a job applicant was rejected because of unsuitability or because of nationality. On-job discrimination can also occur, in the form of delayed promotions, insufficient recognition despite putting in a good performance, and employers deliberately creating a hostile environment for certain employees or placing unreasonable demands on them. This is a serious negative trend which deprive qualified Singaporeans from being hired and excelled in their own country which in long run means a certain skillset shortage in certain areas and social hatred due to the social and workplace enclaves phenomenon.

[Updated 1 Nov 2011: “Don’t Discriminate against Singaporeans”, The Straits Times. Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin announced new guidelines to curb the discriminatory practices against Singaporeans and warned that Singapore Government will not tolerate foreign managers who hire and promote their own kind, at the expense of qualified local candidates. Askmelah has reported this widely known phenomenon previously and let’s see if the new guidelines will work though I am very sceptical about its effectiveness. The most effective way remains selective and controlled immigration policy unlike the floodgate opened during 2005-2010 period which is the root cause of the current social unhappiness and problems-something the minister has said the Government is also doing at the national level by raising levies, qualifying salaries and qualifications for work permits, which IMHO only addressed only part of the problem.] 

Even the entire Table Tennis National Team are all (almost) filled by China Nationals for the last 10 years or more, depriving promising Singaporean players the chance to represent our own country. These players are recruited and paid handome salary to work full-time here, excluding other attractive benefits such as game bonuses and other benefits such as sponsored education. Nevermind all of them are now Singaporeans (it is a technical requirement in order to represent Singapore), there are obvious signs that they are still very far from being fully integrated. They still use their Hanyu Pinyin names, speak their native language (many hardly speak English which is a common language here), all born in China (where is the multi-racial composition?) and many will likely to return and retire in China when they no longer able to represent Singapore. Even the coaches all come from China. How to encourage Patriotism with such flawed policy? It is time to put a stop to this nonsensical policy and stop squandering precious tax payers’ money.

Other national teams are not spared of the the enclave problem, e.g. The once most idolised national soccer team from a good mix of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians in the 1970s and 80s to the current state of more than 60% of the team are comprised of one race [see S’pore football needs more players of other races, Todayonline 14Oct13]. The Government should take the lead in resolving social and workplace enclaves, let’s start with our National teams first.

the Whole National Table Tennis Team Are Staffed by China-Born Players

The government should address this grave imbalance as Singaporeans should make up the core of the society as evident in then 2011 Japan disaster, many foreigners left Japan on the first sign of danger leaving the country crippled in a already very bad situation when the country need them most. The foreigners to local-born Singaporeans are much much worse than Japan and the consequence is something a responsible Government should address fast with top priority. Seriously.

Written by Askmelah 22 Apr 2011

Updated 7 Aug 11: To help ensure Singaporean professionals come first when it comes to employment, labour market testing could be required of employers, where they have to show that they have tried all means – but failed – to hire locals before they are allowed to recruit foreigners, Member of Parliament (Nee Soon) and unionist Patrick Tay said yesterday. Askmelah’s note: Finally something will be done to address the workplace enclave, it is better late than never.  Majula Singapura!

Read more at “Proposals to check hiring of foreign professionals”, Where have all the Singaporeans gone?

A ST forum contributor, Rohim Kalil, wrote in saying that:

“About three years ago, my nephew, who had been working in an IT department in Citibank for a number of years, had his service terminated, together with all his Singaporean colleagues, due to restructuring.

But all his Indian national colleagues were retained. Incidentally, the senior officers in the department were Indian nationals.

The Government should consider introducing a quota for foreign nationals in companies based in Singapore.”



Article 1: FTs hiring FTs (FT=Foriegn Talents)

Singapore popular with Korean graduates


Read this article about Korean fresh grads getting employed in Singapore.

These are not the only type of foreign fresh grads getting jobs in Singapore. Meanwhile, 1/3 of our own fresh graduates are employed on contract basis. Of the 2/3 of local fresh grads whom are getting permanent jobs, how many % are Singaporeans?

I understand that local talent supply may not be sufficient in terms of numbers + specialisation for all employers in SG. As such, we take in experienced FTs.

BUT the fact that foreigner FRESH grads are taking up jobs in SG, especially in such an open and public manner, is an alarming problem. Usually, by the time you read about something in the news, it’s been brewing for a while.

Have Korean firms in SG employed these 67 fresh grads from Konyang University in South Korea ?

If so, then is this proof that FTs are giving preference to and hiring their own kind.

My own experience confirms the “FTs hiring FTs” phenomenon.

In my previous job, 3 out of 4 bosses are from Country X. Only 1 is Singaporean. During a round of hiring for 1 junior position, the bosses from Country X singled out CVs of potential hires from Country X, and repeatedly told the managers (Singaporeans) that they must ‘seriously consider’ these guys.

Or worse still, are public agencies hiring foreigner FRESH grads, passing over Singaporean fresh grads?
I know of at least one stat board that has done so in the recent years.

There is currently nothing to stop FT employers in SG hiring their own kind only. Ministry of Manpower and its Minister Gan Kim Yong have not done anything to prevent such abuses.

We, Singaporeans, need to take care of SINGAPOREANS FIRST.
It is neither selfish nor shameful for Singaporeans to think ‘SINGAPORE FIRST’.

Singapore is so small with limited opportunities. Meanwhile, there are more and more foreigners here, taking up the juicy roles. To make things worse, non-SG nationalities/ethnicities are practising “Our Own Kind FIRST” at their formal (national) and informal (everyday decisions, e.g. hiring, social) levels.

Given this context, it is absurd for any Singaporean to reject the principle of SINGAPOREANS FIRST.

As a Singaporean, you will be utterly stupid to dismiss this issue.
As a Singaporean, it is indeed shameful and selfish if you do NOT think of SINGAPOREANS FIRST.

Article 2: Singaporeans shouldn’t be disadvantaged

Source: The Straits Times Mar 7, 2011

I FULLY agree with Mr James Ang (“‘Foreign’ doesn’t always mean ‘talent'”; last Tuesday).

I was with a foreign derivatives brokerage from 1998, building up a solid portfolio of customers over more than a decade. In 2009, there was a restructuring engineered by talent from outside Singapore, leading to foreign Asia-Pacific heads being located here.

While it was good for the Singapore economy and property market, it was detrimental to talented Singaporeans. Why? The so-called foreign talent who came in were not cheap, commanding high salaries and housing allowances.

If they had brought in new business and customers, one could have appreciated their value. But most did not.

In fairness, there were a few good foreign talent whom I really respected because I found meaning and motivation in working with or for them.

I also concur with Ms Laurelle Ho (“Employment enclaves”; also last Tuesday). A foreigner tends to hire staff from his own country. My previous Australian head hired two other Australians as supervisors. I have since tendered my resignation in frustration.

When one is above 50 years of age, where can one find a job in another industry that will pay the same level of benefits?

I am a middle-income Singaporean with a wife and three children to support. Furthermore, my older children are entering higher institutes of learning, whose fees are not cheap.

I feel that our policy of attracting “foreign talent” needs to be properly managed. There must be an avenue for recourse if Singaporeans are unfairly disadvantaged.

Teoh Charn Hong

Article 3: Employment enclaves

Source: The Straits Times  Mar 1, 2011

‘While there is a quota for foreigners in public housing, there is none to prevent foreign bosses from preferring fellow citizens over Singaporeans.’

MS LAURELLE HO: ‘Mr Cheong Tuck Kuan raised an important point about hiring Singaporeans first (‘Target white-collar foreigners instead’; Feb 23). While this may not facilitate the movement of talent best, it is a point to consider in preventing foreigners of the same nationality from congregating in a multinational corporation (MNC).

While there is a quota for foreigners to deter ethnic enclaves in public housing, there is none to prevent high-ranking foreign bosses from preferring their fellow citizens over Singaporeans, which results in foreign colonies forming within organisations.

When an Indian Singaporean friend of mine answered a job interview for a vacancy in an MNC recently, she was the only Singaporean. The other interviewees were Indian nationals. When she went into the interview room, she understood the reason. Two of the three directors were Indian nationals who dominated the interview process. She had a sinking feeling that she would not clinch the job and she was right.

Ironically, when she finally landed a job, the employer was an Indian national. Her team was dominated by Indian nationals, which made her feel out of place despite working in Singapore.’

Article 4: ‘Foreign’ doesn’t always mean ‘talent’

Source: The Straits Times Mar 1, 2011


WHILE I agree that Singapore needs foreigners to stay competitive, there are levels of foreign talent (‘Levy hike ‘not a push for locals”; last Thursday).

At a basic level, there is a need for work permit and S Pass holders in the service, construction and manufacturing industries, given the shrinking population and comparative lack of appeal for these sectors among most Singaporeans.

There should be some control to mitigate the negative effects of attracting foreigners at this level, like falling productivity; and this year’s Budget has started to address this issue with the revised levy. However, when it comes to foreign talent on employment passes, are we certain that Singaporeans who graduate from one of the best education systems anywhere are unable to fill such vacancies?

As much as we need multinational companies (MNCs) to invest and create jobs here, there must be a delicate balance to reap the optimum benefits of combining local and foreign talent.

To achieve optimum balance, the Government should have a process of checks to manage the quantity and quality of white-collar foreign talent. I have been working in MNCs for more than 26 years and my experience informs me that it is not always the case that the foreign help is cleverer or more productive than his Singaporean equivalent.

In fact, there are many Singaporeans who are better and cheaper.

In fairness, I have also worked with talented and experienced foreign managers from whom I have learnt much.

However, it is troubling when the term ‘foreign’ becomes synonymous with ‘talent’, though that is not always so.

James Ang 

Article 5: A letter from a local professor

Source: Tan Kin Lian’s Blog and readers’ comments

Dear Mr. Tan

For those who are academically inclined, one common dream is to become a university professor. For many countries in the world, this is a position worth aspiring to as professorship carries prestige and
comfortable income. For Singaporeans who aspire to become professors in Singapore, it is sad to say that based on the happenings in a local university over the last few years, they found it a nightmare.
In this university, many Singaporean professors have been fired when they reach the age of around 55 (much lower than the national retirement age). Many of these professors have contributed to the
development of the university for more than 20 years. And to add insult to injury, many of the university management who decided to fire them are actually foreigners.
When the university recruit new professors, many of them are also foreigners and some of them are in their 60s or even late 60s. As the university is heavily subsidised with Singapore money, is it not more
logical to hire Singaporeans so that the money is invested back to Singaporeans? Instead, the money is now used by foreigners for their career advancement or retirement outside Singapore.
This situation is particularly sad as Singaporeans have worked very hard to accumulate this wealth. So why let foreigners enjoy the fruits of Singaporean labour? And to add to the irony, many of the
Singaporean ex-professors do not have enough savings for their retirement. They have to make a career switch at the age of 55 – is this not a nightmare?  Even though this situation has been going for quite
some time, it is not a lost cause. The Singapore government can reverse the situation to demonstrate that they truly place Singaporeans first.
Local professor

Article 6: Competing with foreign colleagues 

Source: ST Forums, May 5, 2011

IN THIS General Election, the issue of foreign workers is one of the agendas for the ruling People’s Action Party and the opposition.

I work in the precision engineering sector. I am not against foreign workers but the local employer takes advantage of their low salaries and gives them overtime pay and annual increments, sidelining the local employee. Overtime pay is given to me when the foreign workers go on long vacation.

How can I cope with just the basic pay when the cost of living is so high? The Ministry of Manpower should look into such unfair practices and protect citizens like me who are in the low-income bracket.

Peter Cheong

Article 7:  Advertisement promoting ‘foreign talents’ found at Tanjong Pagar bus-stop

source:  24 Jun 2011
A large-screen advertisement promoting ‘foreign talents’ to prospective employers was spotted by an observant netizen at a bus stop in Tanjong Pagar, the constituency of PAP supreme leader Lee Kuan Yew:

The agency claims that is able to recruit ‘foreign talents’ at $0 from China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, East Malaysia and to process applications for work permits, S-passes and Employment passes as well.

With due respected to the countries listed, they are hardly traditional sources of ‘foreign talents’ coming to Singapore. It appears that under the PAP’s definition, any foreigner is considered a ‘talent’ no matter what their work scope are.

The shocking snapshot sparked a huge uproar among netizens with many of them lampooning the Manpower Ministry for its lax hiring policies.

Edwin Yam wrote on TR Facebook:

Time for the MOM to do some proactive enforcement, ie flipping thru job recruitment ads, open eyes big big when walking in the streets looking out for illegal ads, etc…YOU won’t get anything much done just by sitting in the office….!!!!!”

Douglas Dielle added:

The PAP’s agenda is to introduce more foreign robots who have little or no affinity to Singapore, and are happy to work in locally to help keep the economic cogwheels of the city-state turning. It doesn’t matter if they’re here for the short-term, because if they do leave it’ll be easy to replace. Such is the advantage of a globalised world.”

Coincidentally, Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said his ministry will be issuing a warning to a recruitment agency that advertised for only permanent residents and employment pass holders though he was quick to emphasize that companies need to hire on ‘MERIT’.

Article 8: Why S’poreans cry foul: Three case studies

Source: The Straits Times/Yahoo News  1 Nov 2011

Case Study 1: Foreigners hiring fellow countrymen

A Singaporean known only as Ms Tan complained to the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) that a foreign manager at her IT firm preferred to hire his own countrymen rather than qualified Singaporeans. Singaporeans thus became a minority in her company, she said.

The company told Tafep that it had difficulties in hiring Singaporeans with relevant skills. But after Tafep reviewed its hiring processes, the management accepted that some of its departments had seen an increased representation from a particular country in recent years.

The company agreed to monitor its hiring patterns more closely and also to put in place fair recruitment procedures, such as involving persons of more than one nationality in the selection process. It also made a commitment to hire and develop Singaporeans as the core of its workforce.

Case Study 2: Discriminatory practices by an employment agency

An employment agency specialising in foreign recruitment told its clients by e-mail that foreigners were more hard-working, less choosy and job-hop less than Singaporeans.

After Tafep stepped in, the agency corrected its e-mail and pledged not to do so again.

It counselled and warned the manager involved before making a public apology. The agency also agreed to send its staff for the relevant training.

Alerted to the case, the Manpower Ministry held its own investigation before issuing a written warning to the agency for acting in a manner detrimental to public interest.

Case Study 3: Over-reliance on foreigners

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin shared an anecdote of a chief executive who was inundated by complaints from his Singaporean workers that the company was employing too many foreigners from certain countries.

The CEO was surprised as he was not aware of these practices. He said many of his employees left for another company which did not hire too many foreigners.

The CEO also shared his company’s workforce figures, which ‘didn’t make very good reading’ for a company based here, said Mr Tan.

Article 9: Why employers shun local graduates

Source: Straits Times, 14 Feb 2013

WE OFTEN hear that Singapore needs to bring in foreigners for the growth of the country.

I agree that we have little choice in the matter if we are referring to jobs Singaporeans do not want. But how about jobs that Singaporeans do want?

It would be good to find out the real reasons why employers hire foreigners instead of Singaporeans for such jobs, whether they be in banking, information technology or marketing.

A Singaporean friend of mine, who was then a director in a European multinational corporation located here, told me a few years ago that he specifically directed his human resource department not to hire any graduate from our local universities unless absolutely necessary.

His view was that local graduates lacked the necessary mindset and attitude to do a job well. In contrast, graduates of foreign universities, Singaporean or otherwise, tended to be more independent, streetwise, resilient and self-driven.

According to him, the only positive thing about local graduates was that they were book-smart.

At another function where lecturers and heads of department – both Singaporean and foreign – from local universities were present, the bulk of the conversation was on our university students – they lacked independent thought, needed spoon-feeding, were whiny and complained about everything but did not do anything to improve the situation.

We have a sizeable number of tertiary graduates every year. So why is it that some employers still seek to employ foreigners instead of Singaporeans?

Some of my friends who are employers tell me that cost is often not the issue. They are willing to, and actually do, pay these foreigners more for no reason other than that they can do a better job.

As an educator, I have encountered many students who display the traits cited above.

What we need to do is obvious – improve the quality of our graduates, thereby making them more attractive to hire and consequently reducing the need to hire foreigners.

Alex Yeo

Article 10: Singapore may tighten controls on foreign execs amid bias allegations

Source: Reuters, 5 Mar 2013

Alleged bias against locals accounted for half of the employment-related complaints received in Singapore last year,  in another sign that the city-state may scrutinise more closely firms which are hiring foreigners to fill higher-paying jobs.

The data provided to Reuters by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP) comes amid growing unhappiness among Singaporeans about the surge in foreigners over the past decade.

TAFEP is a body backed by the Ministry of Manpower and tasked with ensuring fair work practices in the small island-state, which as a global financial, business and transport hub attracts hundreds of thousands of higher-paid foreign workers.

Singapore has already taken steps to curb demand for low-wage, low-skilled foreign workers through higher levies on companies and tighter quotas, and Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin will discuss in detail plans to help Singaporeans aspiring for higher-paid jobs when his ministry’s budget is discussed next Thursday or Friday.

The increased vetting of applications to hire skilled foreigners — typically those earning more than S$3,000 ($2,400) a month — may hit banks such as Citigroup  C.N , which has around 10,000 employees in Singapore. Such hires are exempt from the levies imposed on firms recruiting lower-cost workers.  

“In 2012, about half of the 303 complaints received by TAFEP were regarding fair opportunities for Singaporeans,” a spokeswoman for the organisation said.

The Ministry of Manpower said in a separate reply to Reuters that TAFEP will refer unresponsive employers to the ministry, which will in turn curtail work pass privileges of firms that did not heed its advice.

TAFEP earlier this week published advertisements in local newspapers saying it had met senior management at some financial firms after it got feedback that some supervisors preferred to hire their own countrymen over Singaporeans.

“A few firms acknowledged that certain departments did seem to have “hot spots” where clusters of employees from the same country appeared to have developed over time,” the advertisements said, although TAFEP also cited an example of a complaint that was not justified.


Singapore last month unveiled a budget heavy on social spending and announced new curbs on companies hiring foreign workers as the city-state tries to reduce its dependence on overseas labour and address a widening income gap.

In budget debate earlier this week, several lawmakers from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) voiced concerns about locals being denied a fair shot at white collar jobs.

Liang Eng Hwa, a member of Parliament who is also a managing director at DBS Group  DBSM.SI , questioned the large number of foreigners holding managerial positions in areas such as human resources, auditing and general administration — skills that should be relatively easy to find in Singapore.

Singapore is one of the world’s most open economies, with foreigners accounting for about one-third of the workforce.

Currently, it is even more liberal than Asian rival Hong Kong in terms of the ease in which firms can hire foreign professionals.

While the former British colony also has a large expatriate population, employers wanting to hire a foreigner must provide proof that the job cannot be readily taken up by the local work force.

Employers must also provide remuneration packages that are in line with the prevailing market standards in Hong Kong — a condition that makes it harder for firms to replace local managers with lower-cost replacements.

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