November 24, 2020

Singapore Seeks to Put Locals First in Line for Jobs

HONG KONG — The government of Singapore announced measures on Monday that will compel companies to give priority to local residents in the job recruitment process, a move that could create more challenges for multinational firms doing business in the Southeast Asian city-state.

The measures will require companies operating in Singapore to advertise vacancies to local residents for two weeks before they can apply to fill positions with overseas workers. The recruitment notices must be posted to a central job bank to be administered by a government employment agency, according to a statement released by the Ministry of Manpower.

“Providing better jobs and diverse opportunities to meet Singaporeans’ aspirations are the ultimate objectives of economic growth,” Tan Chuan-Jin, the acting minister for manpower, said in the statement. “What we are doing is to put in place measures to nudge employers to give Singaporeans — especially our young graduates and professionals, managers and executives — a fair chance at both job and development opportunities.”

Singapore has already taken steps this year to make it more difficult to import workers, including increasing levies on overseas hires and reducing the allowable ratio of foreign to local employees at companies in the service, manufacturing, construction and maritime sectors.

Singapore is a major hub for regional and multinational companies operating in Southeast Asia, and such measures have raised concerns in the foreign business community about the ability to meet staffing needs, given Singapore’s aging population. In January, nine foreign business groups, including the American, Australian, British, Canadian and European chambers of commerce, sent a letter expressing these concerns to local labor officials.

“Singapore’s openness to foreign labor has enabled it to attract, retain and absorb the best of foreign talent, providing it with a clear competitive advantage over its neighbors,” the business groups wrote. “While Singapore continues to attract significant foreign investment, we nevertheless fear current implementation of revised labor policy risks negatively impacting Singapore’s economy and reputation as an open economy.”

While many countries impose restrictions on foreign workers, few of them depend on imported labor as much as Singapore. With a citizenry of 3.3 million and a fertility rate that falls far short of replenishing the population, tiny Singapore relies heavily on foreign labor for construction workers, service staffs and financial and legal professionals.

That dependence is increasing as the economy expands. The number of foreign workers in Singapore has soared in recent years, to 1.2 million at the end of 2012, accounting for 37 percent of the labor force. At the same time, Singapore’s unemployment rate has remained among the lowest in Asia, at 2.1 percent as of June.

Still, opposition to imported labor has risen among locals who see themselves as missing out on opportunities, and that has become a political liability for the government. The People’s Action Party, which has governed Singapore since it became an independent nation in 1965, generated its weakest level of support ever in elections two years ago.

Also on Monday, the government raised by 10 percent the minimum salary required before it will issue an employment pass for a foreign worker. The new amount is 3,300 Singapore dollars, or $2,600, a month, effective in January.

Companies with 25 or fewer employees and jobs that pay a fixed monthly salary of 12,000 Singapore dollars, or $9,600, or more will be exempt from the new recruitment advertising requirements, the government said. The policy takes effect next August.

Mr. Tan, of the labor ministry, dismissed criticism of the measures. “The framework is not about ‘Hire Singaporeans first,’ or ‘Hire Singaporeans only,’ ” he said. “What the government is doing is to help them get a fair opportunity. Singaporeans must still prove themselves able and competitive to take on the higher jobs that they aspire to.”

Article source:

Court Bars Notice to Workers on Right to Unionize

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down a National Labor Relations Board rule requiring most private sector employers to post a notice informing employees of their right to unionize.

Ever since the labor board proposed the rule in December 2010, business groups have asserted that the move exceeded the board’s authority and was an improper imposition on nearly six million employers, most of them small businesses.

In its decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the N.L.R.B.’s rule violated a federal law that bars the board from punishing an employer for expressing its views so long as those statements do not constitute threats of retaliation or force.

The labor board had originally said that an employer’s failure to post the notice would be considered an unfair labor practice, resulting in penalties, but the circuit court said the board would be acting illegally to punish an employer for expressing a statement or in this case, for failing to post a statement under orders by the labor board.

The labor board’s rule told employers to post a notice, informing workers of their right to form or join a union, to strike, to bargain collectively and to act together to improve working conditions.

The federal circuit court issued an injunction in April 2012, suspending the labor board’s rule, after two lower courts differed on whether the board had overstepped its powers.

The circuit court cited several Supreme Court rulings to reach its decision that employers have a right to disseminate views as well as a right not to disseminate views. The court relied on First Amendment rulings that prohibit the government from telling people what they must say, like telling schoolchildren they must recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Many businesses asserted that the labor board’s proposed poster was one-sided and pro-union, although the board said the poster was neutral.

The National Association of Manufacturers applauded the court’s ruling, calling it “an important victory in the fight against an activist N.L.R.B. and its aggressive agenda.”

“The poster rule is a prime example of a government agency that seeks to fundamentally change the way employers and employees communicate,” the manufacturers’ association said. “The ultimate result of the N.L.R.B.’s intrusion would be to create hostile work environments where none exist.”

The A.F.L.-C.I.O. attacked the ruling. “The Republican judges of the D.C. Circuit continue to wreak havoc on workers’ rights,” its president, Richard L. Trumka, said. The labor federation, like the Obama administration, was already upset with the circuit court for ruling in January that President Obama’s recess appointments to the labor board were illegal and that the board thus did not have a quorum needed to operate. The Obama administration has appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Trumka questioned the sweep of Tuesday’s ruling, saying: “In today’s workplace, employers are required to display posters explaining wage and hour rights, health and safety and discrimination laws, even emergency escape routes. The circuit court’s ruling suggests that courts should strike down hundreds of notice requirements, not only those that inform workers about their rights and warn them of hazards, but also those on cigarette packages, in home mortgages and many other areas.”

In holding that the labor board could not punish employers for failing to post the notice, the court decided to vacate the rule altogether, saying that the labor board would not have wanted to propose a merely voluntary rule that it could not enforce.

In a statement, the labor board said it was reviewing Tuesday’s ruling and would “make a decision on further proceedings at the appropriate time.” It noted that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was also reviewing the legality of the poster rule.

Article source:

Italy Passes $40 Billion Austerity Plan

Although it has a parliamentary majority, the month-old technocratic government of Prime Minister Mario Monti called a confidence vote on the measures to avoid having to address scores of modifications proposed by the Northern League, once a pillar of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition and now the loudest opposition party.

The measures — which have grown increasingly unpopular as the reality sets in for Italians — reinstate a property tax on first homes, among other tax increases; raise the retirement age to 66 for men and 62 for women by 2012; and raise the ceiling for cash transactions to $1,300, among other measures to crack down on tax evasion.

The government has said that it tried to spread the pain among all segments of society and not just hit what many call “the usual suspects” — taxpaying salaried employees who often take the brunt of tax increases because tax evasion among non-salaried workers is so high.

Mr. Monti — a former European commissioner and university president who must work with a Parliament whose largest bloc, the center-right, is eager for early elections to solidify its political standing — has said that the bywords of his government are “equity,” “rigor” and “growth.”

To stimulate growth — which remained flat at 0.3 percent in Italy over the past decade — the measures also provide tax incentives for businesses that hire women and people under 35 on permanent contracts. Business groups have called for even more sweeteners to prevent the economy from contracting further.

In a speech just before the vote, Mr. Monti underlined the need to orient European economic policies more toward growth, rather than just concentrating on fiscal discipline. Calling the measures a “proof of collective discipline,” Mr. Monti said that the package enabled Italy to hold its head high as it faces the undeniably serious European crisis.

Although Mr. Monti still enjoys broad political and popular support, the measures have become increasingly unpopular in a growing climate of economic uncertainty, in a country that is already in recession, and where salaries have remained flat in recent years while the cost of living has risen.

“I know that we all have to cooperate and that the measures were needed, but my feeling is that they always turn to the same people, like pensioners or those with low salaries,” said Maurizio Capecci, an unemployed 57-year-old who sells lottery tickets during the Christmas season in downtown Rome. “I think the government should have introduced a wealth tax. Why can’t those who have more give more, but for real?”

A strike called by labor unions shut down national transportation last week and more strikes are anticipated in the coming months to protest changes in pension rules and labor contracts.

Mr. Monti’s government has said that it is planning to tackle labor reform — long a third rail in Italian politics — in the new year.

Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting.

Article source:

Economix: What if the Debt Ceiling Isn’t Raised?

There are few signs of progress in the meetings between President Obama and Republican Congressional leaders about the need to raise the federal debt limit.

On Thursday, the president said the two sides were still “far apart,” although he said recent meetings were “very constructive.” For his part, the House speaker, John Boehner, said on Friday that no agreement was “imminent.”

One thing that most officials seem to agree on, however, is that failing to raise the limit by the Aug. 2 deadline will have undesirable consequences. Here are some recent statements by American officials and others on the subject:

“While some think we can go past August 2nd, I frankly think it puts us in an awful lot of jeopardy, and puts our economy in jeopardy, risking even more jobs.” — House Speaker John A. Boehner, July 8

“Potentially the entire world capital markets could decide, you know what, the full faith and credit of the United States doesn’t mean anything. And so our credit could be downgraded, interest rates could go drastically up, and it could cause a whole new spiral into a second recession, or worse.” — President Obama, July 6.

“The United States would be forced into a position of defaulting on its debt. And the implications of that on our financial system, our fiscal policy and our economy would be catastrophic.” — Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, July 7.

“We don’t need to tell the rest of the world that anytime people in Congress start throwing a tantrum that we’re not going to pay our bills.” — Warren E. Buffett, July 7.

“The debt-ceiling trigger does offer a needed catalyst for serious negotiations on budget discipline, but avoiding even a technical default is essential. This is a risk our country must not take.” — A letter circulated by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

“There is no guarantee that investors would continue to re-invest in new Treasury securities. In fact, some market participants have already indicated that they would be disinclined to do so. As one of the major ratings agencies concluded in a recent report, failure to pay non-debt obligations ‘would signal sever financial distress and potentially imminent debt default,’ prompting the U.S. sovereign rating to be place on ‘Rating Watch Negative.’” — A letter from Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to Republican senators, June 29.

A few prominent voices have suggested that not raising the debt ceiling, while not ideal, would have acceptable consequences. Here are some of them.

“The Treasury takes in more than enough money from taxpayers to cover interest payments on the national debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, tax revenue is estimated to be $2.23 trillion in Fiscal Year 2011 while net interest payments will only amount to $213 billion. Even if the debt ceiling remains where it is, there will be more than enough money in the Treasury to make the government’s debt payments, thereby avoiding default.” — A letter to Secretary Geithner, signed by Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and 16 other Republican senators, May 23.

“My guess is that the bond market would rally as long as it believed the ultimate outcome was going to be genuine entitlement reform — that we wouldn’t even have to find out about a meltdown because it wouldn’t happen.” — Stanley F. Druckenmiller, the retired manager of Duquesne Capital, May 14.

Are there other prominent or notable figures who’ve gone on the record about the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling? Submit them in comments.

Article source:

House Passes Patents Bill Approaching Global Norm

The legislation also takes steps to help the underfunded United States Patent and Trademark Office deal with a backlog of 1.2 million pending applications that forces inventors to wait three years to get a decision.

The vote was 304-117, closer than the 95-5 vote by which a similar bill cleared the Senate in March. The two chambers still have to reconcile the differences in their bills, which are supported by the White House, major business groups and leaders from both parties who have hailed it as a measure that could create jobs.

“This legislation modernizes our patent system to help create private sector jobs and keep America on the leading edge of innovation,” Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said.

Before getting to a final vote, House supporters had to overcome challenges from opponents who contended that the legislation violated the Constitution and would make it more difficult for individual inventors to prevail in disputes with large corporations.

There was also strong opposition to a provision that would allow financial institutions to challenge patents issued on business methods, like systems to process checks. The opponents said the provision amounted to a bailout for banks, but Representative Robert Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the Judiciary intellectual property subcommittee, said business method patents, a fairly recent phenomenon, were “a fundamental flaw in the system that is costing consumers millions each year.”

An amendment to remove the section concerning the business method patents was defeated 262-158.

The most significant change brought about by the bill would put the United States under the same system for patent applications used by Europe and Japan, which favor inventors who file their patent applications first. Currently the United States operates on a first-to-invent system that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith of Texas, said was “outdated and dragged down by frivolous lawsuits and uncertainty regarding patent ownership.”

A chief opponent of the change, John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat and former Judiciary Committee chairman, said the bill would “permit the Patent and Trademark Office to award a patent to the first person who can win a race to the patent office regardless of who is the actual inventor.”

But Mr. Smith said that for a $110 fee an inventor could file a provisional application that would allow a year to prepare a formal application. He said it could cost $5 million for legitimate inventors to defend themselves against unwarranted lawsuits.

The Senate and House will also have to work out differences on another major element of the bill, how to finance the patent office.

Article source: