The Government’s method of combining Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) in local employment statistics is likely a means to “confuse the populace” on actual figures of employment created for “native” Singaporeans, theorised businessman and Reform Party GE2015 candidate Khan Osman Sulaiman.
Mr Khan in a Facebook post on Sat (11 Jan) questioned the notion that lumping together employment figures of Singaporeans and PRs when tabulating statistics for local employment is a way to prevent pitting the two against each other.
Instead, he opined that placing Singapore citizens and PRs under a single local employment classification for statistical purposes “is an easy escape route for the ministers”, which purportedly allows said ministers to “insinuate” that anyone who requests a breakdown of figures of the two categories “as trying to drive a wedge in society so as to skirt around the issue”.
“Why is the minister hesitant in providing the breakdown of each sector? Probably because the figure shows unfavourable results? So it’s natural for the government to be reticent in disclosing the data.
“Why did MP Pritam Singh ask for the breakdown in each sector? Probably to know of any big ‘trade off’ between good jobs that went to Singaporeans and PRs. This is also natural given that Pritam is the opposition MP.
“Both sides of the political divide is doing what they are supposed to do. But the best way forward is to be honest to the populace,” added Mr Khan.
He asserted the importance of the Government providing the breakdown of data on employment for Singaporeans and PRs to the public, as “Singaporeans are entitled to know whether the economy is creating enough good jobs for the people”.
“Creating jobs for Singaporeans is one of the core functions of the government. If the government of the day believes in foreign talent to drive the economy forward, it also has to ensure that Singaporeans are not denied of good jobs,” stressed Mr Khan.
Mr Khan’s comments came on the heels of a heated exchange between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh in Parliament last Mon (6 Jan) on the issue of the breakdown on employment data in Singapore.
Mr Singh — a Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC — earlier tabled a Parliamentary question on the number of jobs created in each of the sectors covered under the Government’s Industry Transformation Maps, and a breakdown based on Singaporean, PR and foreigner groupings.
He pointed out that official statistics on “locals” often merge figures on Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs), and asked the Trade and Industry Minister to clarify if the Government would provide specific data on the respective categories in the future.
Mr Chan told the House that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018.
Following Mr Chan’s speech, Mr Singh repeatedly asked for the the breakdown of employment data.
Addressing the House, Mr Singh said: “My original parliamentary question really was a question seeking data. Minister for Trade and Industry spoke of the local PMET share going up (from) 54 per cent to 57 per cent. And my question really is can we expect in future — either by way of (response to) a parliamentary question or by the Government on its own accord — (to be given data broken down) into Singaporeans and PRs?
“If the Government’s approach is, ‘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 for that data if the Government is not going to provide it,” he added, to which the Minister replied: “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.”
Mr Singh then prompted Mr Chan: “If that is the case, then for (the increase of 60,000 in local employment between 2015 and 2018)… How many were for Singaporeans and how many went to PRs?”
Mr Chan replied: “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,” he said, adding: “It’s not the data — it is the point of (Mr Singh’s) question.”
“And I would like to remind this House: The ultimate competition is not pitting Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce… competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.
“How many increase in the (number of) jobs go to Singaporeans? Enough for us to keep unemployment rate at the level which many countries would say it’s ‘friction’ — and that is how we’ve done it,” said Mr Chan.
He added that the purpose of bringing in foreign workers with the right types of skills is to ultimately benefit Singaporeans.
“The Government is on the side of Singaporeans. We will grow our economy and attract investments to create more good jobs for Singaporeans,” he added.
“When global companies like Google, Grab and Facebook invest here, the reality is that we do not have enough Singaporeans with the relevant skills and experience to fill all the jobs they are going to create,” he said.
“So do we go out and attract these investments like Google, Grab and Facebook, not just for this generation but more importantly also for the next?” he asked.
“I say we do, and land the investment first,” he told the House.
Mr Chan said that it is pertinent for the government to carefully strike a balance between its open-door policy on foreign labour and preserving opportunities for Singaporeans.
“We must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context,” Mr Chan told the House, adding that the aim is to achieve a “Goldilocks balance” or “just the right amount” instead of also opening “the floodgates” to foreign workers into Singapore.
“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,” he added.
Protectionism impractical for S’pore’s progress, foreign talent still integral in developing local technology: Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing
Previously, Mr Chan in Sep last year similarly told Parliament that insular measures against skilled foreign workers will not serve Singapore’s growth in the long run as an economy that has long thrived on an “open-door” policy, particularly in light of a global shortage of tech talent supply.
Responding to a supplementary question by West Coast GRC MP Patrick Tay regarding whether whether there are, or whether there will be, controls in place in the [email protected] initiative to “ensure that Singaporean PMEs are not compromised or prejudiced against”, Mr Chan said that while the government “will never stop putting Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do”, Singapore “will almost certainly be left behind” if the Republic refuses to absorb skilled foreign workers at this point.
Citing countries such as France and Thailand that have rolled out special visa programmes for skilled tech professionals from abroad, Mr Chan said that Singapore only has “a small window to build a critical mass of high-end professionals, start-ups and companies” in light of such competition.
“There will only be a few such nodes globally. How we do today will decide whether we make it as a tech hub, or not,” he stressed.
Mr Tay, a People’s Action Party (PAP) member and an assistant secretary-general of NTUC, suggested that the government’s focus ought to be on helping and assisting Singaporeans, especially “amidst a sense of uncertainty and a quite dismal outlook in terms of employment and job market”.
Mr Chan replied that “it is precisely because of the uncertainties with the economic outlook that we have stepped up our gears to make sure that we build the next generation of companies in this sector”.
“At this point in time, I would say that this forms part of our surgical measures to help companies transform and expand their market presence,” he added.
Mr Chan noted that while Singapore’s economic growth rate is currently being dragged down by the global electronics downturn, the wholesale and retail trade, and some of the engineering sectors, the Republic’s financial services, the ICT sector, and many of the high tech industries are thriving.
“This is why we must make sure that when we lift the bottom, we must never cap the top,” adding that government programmes such as [email protected] will give local firms “the best possible chance to succeed, and will not make them lose out to other companies from other countries who are competing for global talent”.
When asked by Mr Tay as to whether MTI will consider expanding such initiatives for skilled foreign workers to other sectors such as finance, Chan said that while the government is open to such a prospect, he clarified that such programmes will not apply to S-Pass and E-Pass holders.
“We are not even talking about the average EP people … We are talking about people who can manage programmers by the hundreds and thousands,” he said, adding that such workers are expected to have expertise in managing “global teams”.
Last year, Mr Chan said that the Government wants to encourage a shift towards employing more higher value-added foreign workers (i.e, foreign PMETs).
Some of the “higher value-added” foreign PMETs identified are those in IT, wealth management and biotechnology areas, according to the Minister.
At the same time, companies here which employ such foreign professionals should help transfer expertise to locals, Mr Chan suggested.
“I’ve no problem employing the high-skilled foreigners to come here – we have done that ever since the 1960s – but there must be a process of localisation whereby my own domestic workers, my own local workforce, can progress,” he added.
When asked about the balance of foreign vs local workers in Singapore, he said that while there is “no magic number”, where we are “at the balancing point now is about one-third (foreigners), two-thirds (locals).”
Noting that raising the skill level of foreigners in Singapore is a knotty issue, as Singaporeans worry it will intensify competition for good jobs, Mr Chan said that the answer is to ensure locals are quality workers, too.
“We cannot dumb everybody down, right? That’s why we work so hard to move our people up,” said Mr Chan.