I received a text message from Jack two weeks ago and realised he was terminated by a local company but what irked me intensely was that he was eventually replaced by a foreigner – a Malaysian.
Don’t get me wrong – I have always accepted our Malaysian counterparts living here as one of our own.
I also have many Malaysian friends here who are permanent residents and they assimilate very well with us
After speaking with Jack in person at my office later, I found out that there were a few grey areas in the termination which I am not in a position to provide details.
Job termination is always subjective and both parties will want to make their stand that they are right.
Of course, in employer-is-king Singapore, rule number one is the boss is always right and rule number two is when in doubt, refer back to the first rule!
As for Jack, he was also owed some money from his pro-rated bonus – to be paid out three weeks after his termination and I told him to check his contract to confirm the dispute so that he has a better chance talking to MOM.
I told him that MOM will need his contract to verify the salary dispute and they will not look into his unfair dismissal case.
Jack is a 30-year-old recently-married guy with a diploma to his name.
He is cheerful and easy to talk to but I have told him that he may be abit too nice for his own good as colleagues and bosses will pick on him if they want to find an easy target.
To add on to his stress, his $179, 000 3-room flat in Punggol is recently ready for occupation and he was desperate to get a job because he needs the employment letter to land the subsidized HDB loan.
He managed to acquire employment and the $2000/month pay was barely adequate for his own expenditure though his wife also works.
When I saw the text message on his shocking termination – I was both shocked and flabbergasted.
Moreover, he only worked for about three months before he was replaced by the Malaysian planner.
I also felt for him as at the age of 30 years old, he has already gone through alot in his patchy career.
I remembered having quite an easy smooth journey in my career after my national service – I joined the civil service and my starting pay was $720/month.
Thirty years ago when HDB 5-room flats were going for less than $100, 000, the salary was quite alot compared to today’s standard.
Life was easy then and my eventual $2500/month pay check was not difficult to earn.
However, the work was very routine and I was looking for something more challenging so I quit after 11 years working in Mindef.
Life outside the civil service is totally different as you have to work very hard and with all the foreign talents competing for jobs these days, the work environment must be very difficult for local Singaporeans out there.
As for Jack, he is barely 30 years old and already felt that the future is bleak and pessmistic.
“I have been terminated twice and the last one was unjustified,” he told me intensely as we sat on the office sofa where I used to meet with my clients.
“I was handed a warning letter two weeks into the job and how can you judge a person just within two weeks?’ he lamented.
On the third week, he was told to sit in his desk without any work duties and wait for instructions.
He shook leg for a week before the posting came for another department but he knew that the writings were already on the wall.
I have received almost twenty letters from PMETs who were unfailry dismissed last year – many without any compensation or proper counselling and some need space and time to move on before they can function properly again.
To add salt to the wounds, some are replaced by foreigners recruited probably by their own foreign bosses.
Termination is also a stab to one’s morale and self-confidence and you wonder what has happened especially if the manager did not provide you with a valid reason for the dismissal.
“I also knew that I was replaced by a Malaysian planner,” he told me in disgust.
I asked him how did he knew that?
“The email on the employment of a new planner came out just after I was called up by my manager and given the termination letter on a Friday late afternoon..”
He was dismissed on the spot and the manager told him point blank that he is not fit to be a planner – after two months on the job.
There was also no notice served and Jack was too shocked to bother and find out more about the proper procedures for termination.
I told him that it was possible he is still on probation and thus no notice needs to be served when he is been sacked.
More seriously, he told me that in the 100-strong local manufacturing company located in the eastern part, 80% of the staff are foreigners – mainly from East Malaysia.
Many of the foreign executives there are also amazed that they met a lone Singaporean working in the department as they are more the exception than the norm.
Jack told me he counted less than ten Singaporeans working in the 100-strong manufacturing company.
His supervisor, manager and the big boss are all Malaysians. It is unsure whether they are converted citizens, PRs or employment pass holders.
He has a staff working under him and she is also a Malaysian.
The rest of the foreigners are made up of PRC Chinese and mainly work as low-end factory workers.
Its not uncommon now to find local Singaporeans the minority workers in any companies nowadays.
Its a sickly feeling as you feel so alone working in a company that is foreigner-dominated and ironically based in your own company.
Is this what the Prime Minister meant when he said a few years ago that some Singaporeans will benefit from companies staffed mainly with foreign workers?
He has also indicated that Singapore will have to hit 6.9 million population in order to achieve optimal growth by 2030 – completely ignoring the social and emotional needs of the local people.
Is this the kind of Singapore we want for ourselves and our children?
The heavy influx of foreign workers coupled with the ease in acquiring work permits have enable many foreigners to work in our country almost hassle free.
Some foreigners I have heard came in with social visas but their real intention is to look for work here.
Moreover, many foreign workers have to pay a certain fee to their foreign employment agent to work here and the sum can be as high as $5000 – $6000 per worker.
It is understandable that the fee is split between the foreign employment agent and the local partner here so companies are constantly being persuaded to hire foreigners over local executives.
On top of the usual executive recruitment fee paid normally to professional employment agents, they also receive some kick-backs from the foreign counterparts in the lucrative employment trade though this is difficult to verify.
Companies are also known to ask their workers for salary rebates and this is usually agreed upon before the companies apply for work pemits with the foreign workers.
Right now, S-Pass permits need a base salary of $2000/month whereas for EP holders, the basic salary is $3000/month.
Many EP holders downgrade to the lower-paying S-Pass permits when their work permits ended after two years so that they can stay on as there is a curb on the EP passes now.
As for Jack, I have told him to look on the bright side and not to give up searching for a job.
Moreover, he just got his new flat and has yet to go for the customary wedding.
Nevertheless, its difficult to lift up someone who has been terminated by a company which hired predominantly foreign workers whereby your superiors and subordinates are mostly Malaysians.
It is hope that MOM will continue to tighten the work permits for foreigners so that local Singaporeans will have some priority in the job market.
There are already one over million foreign workers here and half a million of them are PRs.
Do we need so many permanent residents or are they there to be wooed for citizenship conversion later on?
Malaysians tend to dominate the foreign working contingent here and their numbers can be overwhelming even though we have always accepted them as one of our own.
But should we accept more Malaysians into our country when they are seemed as taking away our jobs and buying up our HDB resale flats?
More importantly, much more can be done to allow Singaporeans to have some priority in the job market as right now, the ones that suffer the most in this complex foreign-worker conundrum are ironically our own middle-ranked local PMETs.
No longer are foreigners filling up the low-end F & B and construction jobs but increasingly, they are replacing Singaporeans at the middle-level hierarchy.
The authorities should tighten up the EP passes which affect the lower to middle level local executives like Jack and not the low-end work permit workers such as those working in the F & B service industry as no Singaporeans will be able to survive working in that low-salaried sector.
I am sure that there will be many Jacks out there struggling to survive in a job market that continues to favour foreign executives – not because they are good but they are only cheaper and have pull some strings along the way.
Written By: Gilbert Goh
Editor’s note: If you are a employer and wants to interview our reader for a position, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for his resume. If your company has more than 80% of foreigners working at the work place, we also want to hear from you. Any company that hires more than 80% foreigners is unacceptable however legitimate their reasons may be. What’s in it for Singaporeans then?