Temasek calls out racist Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees; observers say posts show real tensions that need to be fixed

Temasek says it has referred the posts to Facebook.
Temasek says it has referred the posts to Facebook.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Temasek on Friday (Aug 14) described as "racist", "false" and "divisive" Facebook posts targeting its Indian employees, standing by its hiring policies while calling for more civility on social media.

Posts have been circulating over the past week highlighting the LinkedIn accounts of Temasek's Indian employees, questioning why the investment firm is hiring foreigners instead of locals.

DBS and Standard Chartered banks have also come under similar criticism on social media, in what observers said are "real inter-group tensions" that need to be resolved.

Temasek said in its strongly-worded statement: "Some of our colleagues from India have been targeted recently on social media by a divisive, racist campaign. This makes us very angry at the false claims perpetuated. The Singaporeans among us are also ashamed at such hateful behaviour on the Singapore social media."

The saga comes after the Ministry of Manpower earlier this month placed 47 employers - 30 of which were in the financial services and professional services sectors - on a watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

Competition for jobs among locals and foreigners has emerged as a contentious topic amid job uncertainties brought about by the pandemic, and was a major flashpoint in televised debates between political parties during the recent General Election.

Temasek said 90 per cent of its staff at its headquarters in Singapore are Singaporeans or permanent residents (PRs), a ratio similar to that of its senior leadership.

Globally, the nationality mix of its employees is about 60 per cent Singaporeans and 40 per cent other nationals, of which around 10 per cent are Singapore PRs.

The top five groups of foreigners it hires are those from China, the United States, India, Britain and Malaysia.

 
 
 

While it will continue to provide opportunities for its Singaporean workers, Temasek emphasised that it "will be foolish of us not to tap on the global pool of talent".

"There is not only value in diversity, but the cross fertilisation of experiences and ideas across geographies, and the ability to connect the diverse dots, has become one of our key strengths," it added.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the Facebook posts, while not to be encouraged, are understandable.

"The tendency for being xenophobic is always beneath the surface, and all it needs is the feeling of unfair competition or threat to bring it to the surface," said Prof Tan.

Even so, he urged the authorities to address the source of the unhappiness that triggers the postings rather than just ban the postings as it would drive them underground

Temasek said the posts are in clear breach of Facebook's community guidelines on hate speech but many of these links remained live on Saturday.

When contacted, Facebook said it has reviewed the posts and removed them where content violated its policies but declined to say how many or what proportion of posts were eventually taken down.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Mathew Mathews said people become more attuned to unfair hiring practices in times of economic uncertainty.

 
 
 
 

"But it is one thing to call for a careful examination of what may be unfair hiring practices and another to take this out on particular groups of immigrants and say disparaging things about them," he said.

"It takes both locals and foreigners working in Singapore to share the burden of finding creative ways to keep economic vitality despite all the restrictions posed by the pandemic."

Without referring to the incident, Second Minister for National Development Indranee Rajah on Saturday warned of "toxic" xenophobia that divides society.

"For us the key and the most important thing is that...we want Singaporeans to have full employment and good income; it does not mean that we have to be nasty."

She added that Singapore will never be completely self-sufficient. "Even as (we accept foreigners), it must be part of what we can absorb and we hope that there will be training and skills transfer."