Monday, March 07, 2005

Employment Discrimination?

I have been following the exchanges on MrBrown about Singapore undergraduates being discriminated and on AcidFlask about Singapore postgraduates being discriminated by the the education policies. In response, I just have to say this: Those students have no idea what they are going to face when they start trying to make a living in Singapore.

If you think the education policies puts Singaporeans at a disadvantage, just wait until you start competing in the cut-throat work private sector environment. (There still exists barriers to entry for non-Singaporeans in the Civil Service.)

Regular readers will know that I have been
unemployed for more than a while now. And I have been actively job hunting for work since I returned from Perth.

My state of umeployment is starting to raise difficult questions for the SO. Questions along the lines of "why are you still with someone that cannot hold down a stable job?" phrased in an obtuse manner of course. And I have parents and relatives down my throat for my insistence on getting work which pays reasonably in the IT sector. Along the lines of "chenghu say you people very choosy. Any job can already lah. You think you very siao-lian (young) is it?".

I was chatting with a friendly recruitment agent ("headhunter") last Friday. What I heard ran a chill down my spine. According to the nice lady who runs the IT desk at the recruiter, there were quite a few positions open for skilled entry-level paying around S$2500 a month, and a couple positions open at the mid-levels. What was upsetting to me personally was that her clients are specifically rejecting Singaporeans for those positions.

Seems that clients are requesting Caucasian faces for the mid- to top-level positions to bolster the "image" for the company. It seems that having a Caucasian face on the "director" level helps open doors and to impress in the Singapore business world.

As for the cost-sensitive entry-level positions, the clients have specifically requested for India and PRC workers and are more than willing to apply for ('Q'-class) employment passes since it is cheaper than paying the extra CPF for Singaporeans, and the hassle of having male Singaporeans disrupt employment for National Service reservist every year. The 'S'-class employment pass has further dropped the minimum income level to a mere S$1800 with no CPF contributions for foreigners targetting entry-level positions.

As a Singaporean herself, she could symphatise with the uncomfortable position I was stuck in. The crowding out of Singaporeans in the strata below and in the strata above where my skills sets lie, have led to massive competition at the mid-level. And severe depression of wages. Skilled Singaporean TCP/IP network engineers with years of experience are going for less than S$3000 on contract terms (with no benefits).

But she could not help as she had a whole stack of Singaporean candidates on her desk stuck in the same situation.

And this is not an isolated view either. The SO had a recruiter contact on Sunday. The recruiter told the SO that the wages for the IT market (from the recruiter standpoint) has pretty much collasped due to the influx of cheap foreign labour. Employers are no longer even using recruiters to fill IT positions since they are flooded with 'foreign talent' and employment passes are easily obtainable at under S$50 a year.

This is very bad news for me indeed.

I do not want to waste time or energy discussing the foreign labour policy, since as a serf in Singapore the chances of influencing government policy is effectively nil. Just have to keep focusing on job hunting, keeping this situation in mind. And try not to get too depressed or upset.

I remember about two years back when we were visiting an ostrich farm around Seremban. We met a lady in her 40s running the grill at the cafe. She had her three young kids underfoot and she was telling them to go outside to play in a Singlish accent.

Struck up a conversation with her and turns out that she grew up in Singapore but had to leave Singapore in the late 1980s because her husband (who was a civil engineer) could not find work after the construction industry collasped in the mid 1980s. She sounded sad talking about the past but had a tone of optimism when talking about Seremban giving a better life for her three kids.

I am beginning to understand how she and her husband felt. The Economist (31 October 2002) writes of how "leaving one's home to settle in a foreign land requires courage or desperation" [
cached article ]. Sometimes the line between the courage and desperation can get very thin indeed.


Postscript: For the many comments and emails that
suggested marriage to get the SO a Australian PR visa, or were speculating about our relationship - have you folks considered that the law does not allow marriage in certain cases (e.g. in a homosexual relationship)?


Blogger Calamity Man said...

you know dude, we can't stop globalization. i too do not wholeheartedly fancy the idea of having foreigners take my place but such is the direction the world is going.

all the countries of this world are becoming one big country.

i'll post more on my take of this issue when i have more time later.

March 07, 2005 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Kristian said...

You don't necessarily have to apply for a spouse PR for your SO. It could be a defacto or an Interdependent partner visa.

March 07, 2005 8:30 PM  
Blogger ldsdtsunami said...


I'm sorry if I have missed something here... you mentioned about having a AU PR status already (?) is it possible to go to AU and look for a job instead?..i mean instead of finding one in singapore. Pls correct me if I'm wrong.


March 07, 2005 9:08 PM  
Blogger AcidFlask said...

How about Canada? The cost of living is lower and the people are friendly. And most importantly, the govt still has an active immigration recruitment policy.

March 07, 2005 11:05 PM  
Blogger C said...

That parentheses right at the end of your post would have suggested a can of worms opening i'm guessing *grin*

But on the job front, my sympathies. I have to say, my unemployment situation here was entirely different from yours over there, but either way unemployment drives one crazy.

Here's hoping you get something that brings you a measure of satisfaction real soon.

March 07, 2005 11:57 PM  
Blogger Singapore Calamari said...

What can I say. Only wish you all the best. Opportunities are still out there.

March 08, 2005 9:48 AM  
Blogger TriplePeriod said...

Hey there dude. I totally feel for you. We are both trained in the technical field and I know what you mean. To start with, the gahmen doesn't even protect its local skilled-workforce. Take the basic salary guideline for example. I used to have a very disgruntled professor who is quite renowned locally, who instead of pretending thing are alright, have told us straight about how he had been fighting to raise the minimum wage guideline for engineers, to no avail after so many years. The strategy is simply. We are to provide a CHEAP, SKILLED workforce to attract the FOREIGN MNCs to dump their money into Singapore. We have the cheapest skilled workforce amongst the developed countries. I have hence, quited from the technical side. Easier shit(I shall not disclose) can easier earn more in a few years when compared to IT or Engineering. As a reference, I know a PM, 20 years experience, drawing $S6000. My friend, just 3-4 years in auditing, drawing almost 4k now. 16 years of difference amounts to only 2k. Lets judge.
P.S. My friend is expecting another pay-rise soon. Not my ex-PM though.

March 08, 2005 12:15 PM  
Blogger kureshii said...

yeowch...courage out of desperation huh? sounds like a chinese story i heard... i believe it's the same one our grandparents used to tell us.

it's terible not to be able ot get a job in your own homeland, but if you really reach that stage of desperation you'd do what those people did; go find a job elsewhere that wants to see Asian faces.

March 08, 2005 12:47 PM  
Anonymous SHeLLFisH said...

yeah still remember those unemployed days when i just came back from Perth, i took me 6 mth to find a full time job. few years later when back to study life again, damn gonna grad soon... will b another stats in d unemployment rate. u think being aust pr can get a job so easily? i'm telling u is not....

March 08, 2005 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are you still wasting time in Singapore looking for a job whenyou have your OZ entry visa?

Did you know that there is a labour shortage in Australia and many jobs go unfilled over here.

The Federal Govt is opening up more place for migrants this year.

March 08, 2005 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry if this has been explained before, but why don't you just up and go elsewhere?

If we can't be considered a talent in our own country on the basis of cost alone, then it's time to be a foreign talent in somebody else's country.

The relentless march of globalization is going to pretty much make the world into just several huge country in the future. There's no need to hang on to any spirit of nationalism (read tool of the government) when the nation (read government) obviously don't care two hoots about you.

March 08, 2005 5:10 PM  
Blogger True Flight said...

The short answer is that while Singapore flings its doors wide open to foreigners,

many other countries simply do not welcome foreigners in the same way.

For example, it may be much more difficult for a Singaporean to enter the UK to work,

than it is for a UK citizen to come to Singapore to work.

In the UK, a company is not allowed to hire a foreigner unless the company can satisfy the authorities that there is no local person (ie UK citizen) with the appropriate skills.

To do that, the UK company may be required to prove to the authorities that it had actually tried to hire a local candidate

(eg it ran two advertisements over three months and interviewed 15 UK citizens)

and found no one suitable (none of the 15 UK citizens had the right skills).

Only then will the authorities agree to grant an employment pass for the UK company to hire someone from overseas (eg a Singaporean).

Whereas in Singapore, the situation is quite free & easy:

Indonesian maids; Bangladeshi construction workers; American doctors; Filipino nurses; Indian IT programmmers; PRC engineers; Malaysians everywhere.

March 09, 2005 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Ken said...

I would like to correct The King's Indian. Its actually harder than you think to get a job in UK.

Its an EU employment law that companies in its constituent members can only hire non-EU citizens ONLY IF there are no EU citizens suitable for the job. So, first they have to try to get UK citizens, then they have to try to get EU citizens, then they try commonwealth citizens, lastly, all others.

So we are lucky, we're actually third ;) But in Singapore, we're second down the line, so not much better off.

March 09, 2005 11:03 AM  
Anonymous MiracleNeeded said...

This foreign talent issue and others like it arise because the Singaporean citizen has dropped out of the equation in the globalised madness of the government. They know we cannot vote them out no matter how badly they treat us. Theoretically they could get professional soldiers to defend the country; they are just too stingy at this time to do so because the source of the cheap soldier is still available. In the end, it is still our fault because we never check the government and they grow too powerful for our own good. We are doomed unless a miracle happens.

December 21, 2005 3:51 PM  

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