SICC | Singapore International Chamber Of Commerce | Raffles Quay – The voice of international business in singapore
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9 MAR 2021  |  ISSUE 339

Dear Members and Friends

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day. We all know the yellow brick road to gender and racial equality is never fast or linear. It is long and winding. Equal pay for equal work is still not the norm. Women are still under-represented on company Boards in Singapore and elsewhere. For every few steps forward we collectively take, something comes along which reverses progress.

One such unintended reversal appears to be last week’s announcement of the end of the Letter of Consent (LOC) system which enables Dependent Pass Holders (DPs) to work easily. The exception is business owners who meet specified criteria. Chief among these is providing employment to Singaporeans. The reality is most DP business owners do not earn enough to employ anyone but they can lead fulfilling lives.

The new rules impact women disproportionately because they are the majority of working expat partners and spouses. Some work in foreign national business chambers, others in private education teaching foreign languages. Others are entrepreneurs. Much of the work they do does not take a job away from a Singaporean.

What are the initial results? For now, and until we get clarity, lots of unhappy, partners and spouses worried about whether or not they will be able to work after their LOC expires and whether or not their businesses can survive. Schools worried about their teachers and students. The over 40’s worried about whether or not the minimum salary of SGD 10,000 applies to them.

This means lots of unhappy families. Relocating foreign executives to Singapore will be harder if they know their partner or spouse will not be able to work. The image of Singapore as welcoming talent takes another hit which we can’t afford. Our society will be the poorer for it and yet, will there be a significant increase in jobs for Singaporeans? Probably not.

Of course, the policy intent was not to impact anyone negatively. It was to harmonise DP employment terms with the work pass system. After all, other countries do the same. But other countries are not city-states. This city-state needs to stay exceptional to survive and thrive.

Yours faithfully
Victor Mills
Chief Executive
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