New EP Criteria: Is COMPASS Pointing the Right Way?

The Complementarity Assessment Framework (COMPASS) is a new points-based system for hiring Employment Pass Holders (EPs). COMPASS was announced by the Manpower Minister, Dr Tan See Leng, at last month’s Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) Committee of Supply, but there has been little follow-up debate during and after the Committee of Supply, on such an important policy change.

Hence, I have followed up with a Parliamentary Question on COMPASS at this sitting, but it was not debated. In lieu of an oral debate, I received a written answer from the Manpower Minister which is attached below. Without a chance to debate this matter in Parliament, I can only leave my opinions here so they can be referred to when we evaluate the performance of Compass in future.

COMPASS is a good attempt to improve the complementarity of foreign manpower to the Singaporean workforce, which I take to mean the rebalancing of the quality, number and concentration of foreign manpower in our country over time. But on paper, COMPASS in unlikely to be effective. I shall elaborate on my stance by referencing to the MOM’s infographic on COMPASS attached below.

Firstly, the passing mark of 40 points which allows the applicant to pass even if he failed in 2 of the 4 fundamental criteria is a problem. The 4 fundamental criteria are “Salary”, “Qualifications”, “Diversity” and “Support for local employment”. On top of that, there are another 2 bonus criteria that can override the results based on the fundamental criteria. We have no issue with the first two criteria, provided the MOM checks the authenticity of the salaries and qualifications of applicants properly. However, we have doubts about the last two criteria of “Diversity” and “Support for local employment”.

The “Diversity” criterion seems to provide leeway for a higher fraction of the EP candidate’s nationality among the firm’s PMETs rather than curbing it. A 25% share is the passing mark, but firms can continue to employ EPs with up to 100% of its PMETs from a single nationality if the other 3 criteria are satisfied. Does it mean that with COMPASS, the MOM will no longer need to follow up with firms on the watch list of the Fair Consideration Framework which have a higher concentration than 25%?

The criterion of “Support for local employment” is problematic, because it is not an absolute measure to manage the number of foreign PMETs but a comparison with other firms in the same sub-sector. A potential outcome of this is that if other firms in the same sub-sector have low levels of local employment, a firm will be able to continue to employ EPs while having a similarly low level of local employment.

To be effective in rebalancing our job market, COMPASS needs to have absolute targets for diversity and the level of local employment in the long term. But a possible and immediate enhancement to COMPASS is to stipulate applicants must pass all four criteria and exceed expectations in at least one criterion. Accordingly, the passing mark should be raised to 50 from 40.

Secondly, the exemption of firms with less than 25 PMETs from the criteria of “Diversity” and “Support for local employment” presents another problem. This may have followed on from the rule which exempts companies with fewer than 10 employees from abiding by the advertising rule of the Fair Consideration Framework. However, the new rule under COMPASS which exempts firms with up to 25 PMETs is even more liberal. Is the MOM really tightening or providing more leeway for firms to increase the number and concentration of its foreign PMETs?

In conclusion, the COMPASS system does not appear to be a move to control more rigorously the quality, number and concentration of foreign PMETs in our job market. I urge the MOM to take more resolute action, especially amidst talk that there may be large numbers of Hong Kong PMETs coming to Singapore. We don’t need to take in too many foreigners for jobs which Singaporeans can do!

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