SINGAPORE — In calibrating the “never-ending balancing act” between locals and foreigners in the workforce, Singapore must reject “extremist positions” on immigration, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Monday (6 January).
Chan told the House that the balance was based on three factors: the needs of Singapore’s industries and enterprise, the needs of the workers of this generation and the opportunities for children in the next generation. He added that the goal was to strive for a Goldilocks balance, or the principle of ‘just the right amount’.
In the process, said Chan, the government must not “open the floodgates” and drown Singaporeans, but neither must it close borders and reject foreigners in the workforce. “Above all, in this House, we must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context.”
“This is not the kind of politics we want… this is not how a confident and capable Singapore should face the future.”
The 50-year-old was responding to questions from fellow Members about, among others, how the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITM) have benefited Singaporeans. The $4.5 billion programme, launched progressively from late 2016, aims to deepen partnerships between the government, firms, industries, trade associations and chambers.
‘The government will always have your backs’
Earlier, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad revealed that from 2015 to 2018, the total employment in these sectors, excluding Foreign Domestic Workers, grew by 19,500. Jobs for Singapore citizens grew by 9,300 and by 8,600 for PRs. Jobs for foreigners decreased by 28,500.
Chan also noted that between 2015 and 2018, local employment increased by nearly 60,000 for the whole economy. The proportion of locals in PMET (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) jobs also increased to nearly 57 per cent, one of the highest rates in the world. “Growth in real wage monthly earnings for locals was 3.2 per cent per annum during this period, higher than the 2.4 per cent per annum during the preceding three years, higher than most advanced economies such as the US (0.5 per cent), Japan (0.8 per cent) and Germany (1.2 per cent).”
In responding to Holland-Bukit Timah MP Liang Eng Hwa’s query on whether the ITMs have benefited Singaporeans more than foreigners, the Minister acknowledged the “anxieties” of Singaporeans and pointed out that the government has invested heavily in programmes such as SkillsFuture and Adapt and Grow.
It has also put in place the Fair Consideration Framework, which penalises unfair employment practices where Singaporeans are passed over for non-meritocratic considerations.
“Too few foreign workers… mean that our businesses cannot seize the opportunities out there… too many, and there will be pushback, especially if Singaporeans feel unfairly treated. It is a never-ending balancing act with difficult trade-offs.”
Singaporeans v PRs
Noting that official statistics on ‘locals’ often combines Singaporeans and PRs, Aljunied MP Pritam Singh repeatedly asked for clarification on Chan’s point about employment figures between 2015 and 2018. He wanted to know how many jobs went to Singaporeans and how many went to PRs, and whether the government would provide that data in future.
“If the government’s approach is going to be ‘No, we are not going to provide that data’, can the Minister please share that detail with us here? Because it’s pointless for us to keep asking the question if the government is not going to provide that data,” said the Workers’ Party chief.
In response, Chan said, “We can get you the numbers, but let me say this: what is the point behind the questions?
“Has local unemployment increased? The answer is a resounding no… are our wages going up? Yes, and it’s faster than many other countries. Those are the proof points to show that we are doing right by Singaporeans. But I’m always very cautious about this constant divide: Singaporeans vs PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow, Singaporeans are not benefiting.”