Tan See Leng explains to PSP’s Leong Mun Wai why S’poreans are not losing out to foreign talent


Are Singaporean employees at a disadvantage compared to their foreign counterparts in Singapore?

That is the issue at the core of yesterday’s exchange between Manpower Minister Tan See Leng and Progress Singapore Party’s NCMP Leong Mun Wai yesterday (Mar 1, 2023) during the Ministry of Manpower COS debate.

Win-win partnerships with employers

Responding to Mr Leong’s suggestion to impose a S$1,200 monthly levy on Employment Pass (EP) holders so as to “level the playing field for Singaporeans PMEs”, Minister Tan said that that would miss the point of the tiered foreigner work visa system.

“It is easy enough for the Government to do so because it generates revenue, right? But at the EP level, Mr Leong, our focus is really on making sure…we can get the best, the highest quality…talent anywhere in the world to come here.”

“Employers do not have infinite budgets for manpower. We should think about a win-win partnership,” the Minister said.

CPF is a safety net for Singaporeans, not foreigners

Continuing with his claim about the unlevel playing field between Singaporean PMEs and EP holders, Mr Leong then took aim at the issue of mandatory employer CPF contribution for local employees.

Mr Leong asked, “What makes [the Minister] and the policymakers so certain that the Singaporean PMEs are not disadvantaged, although employers do not need to contribute CPF for the EPs?”

Urging Mr Leong to refer to the “numerous explanations” that he made in the past, Minister Tan said:

“The way we calculate the minimum qualifying salary is after taking into consideration the gross salary of a local (from a similar cohort) plus the CPF contribution of the employer, and we set that as the benchmark.”

Using the example of an EP holder who has been here for about 10 years, Minister Tan explained that their qualifying salary would have to be set at above S$10,000 or so in order to qualify for the pass.

“So with that, we believe that we have adequately address any form of income disparity between our local versus foreign (workers),” he said.

Specifically on the point about not enforcing mandatory CPF contributions for foreign talent, Minister Tan simply explained that CPF being a safety net for Singaporeans in the areas of retirement adequacy and housing, there isn’t a need to extend it to foreigners.

Government will push ahead with programmes to build up Singaporean core

Lastly, Mr Leong asked if the Minister expects Singaporeans to take up a higher proportion of IT jobs, especially those in higher positions in the next five years.

To this, Minister Tan said that the ministry will continue to push ahead with its arsenal of programmes like the SGEP, the Global Ready Talent Programme, and Tech@SG to invest in, upskill, and reskill a Singaporean core.

“And if you have, Mr Leong, even more constructive programmes that we can do to train to upskill our Singaporean core, I’m happy to also take that into consideration.”

However, it is impossible for anyone to guarantee that Singaporeans will end up in high career positions, said the Minister.

“I don’t think anyone can guarantee that. We can guarantee a level playing field at the outset at every single level. But I don’t think anyone can guarantee a similar high outcome or success for everyone.”


Top image: Namcha ph on Unsplash