Singapore—On Monday (Jan 6), an argument broke out between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Workers’ Party’s (WP) Pritam Singh concerning a breakdown of recent employment numbers for Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs).
The opposition leader had tabled a question that asked for the number of jobs for each sector under the Industry Transformation Maps to be broken down based on three categories—citizens, PRs and foreign workers.
Zaqy Mohamad, the Minister of State for Manpower, said that there has been an overall increase of 19,500 jobs across the 23 sectors, due to 39,300 more jobs for Singaporeans, 8,600 more jobs for permanent residents and 28,500 fewer jobs for foreign workers.
The WP leader asked for more specific data in order to have more fact-based conversations on the matter, and also to avoid “a corrosive conversation about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners, et cetera,” as TODAY Online reports Mr Singh as saying.
The Minister of State for Manpower answered by saying that in its annual report, the Manpower Ministry provides the local-foreign workforce breakdown in broad sectors.
Mr Zaqy’s answer was followed by a question from Liang Eng Hwa, the MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, who asked if the economic growth due to changes in industry has been more advantageous to Singaporeans than to foreigners.
Mr Singh then stood and said that he would answer the questions from Messrs Singh and Liang, as they concerned the Government’s plan to grow the economy and create new jobs.
Mr Chan pointed out that there is a perpetual balancing act when it comes to local-foreign workforce numbers. He added than if some decisions today may mean more foreigners than Singaporeans getting jobs that paid better, this may just be a trade-off that would ensure that younger generations of Singaporeans would possess skills that would make them employable in the future.
He said that in time, as the local workforce are better trained, Singaporeans could occupy the positions once held by foreigners, pointing out that between 2015 and 2018, local employment has increased by almost 60,000.
However, after the Trade Trade and Industry Minister spoke, the WP MP again asked for a breakdown of numbers when it comes to the local-foreign workforce.
TODAY reports Mr Singh as saying, “My original parliamentary question really was a question seeking data….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.”
Mr Chan answered by saying, “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.”
Mr Singh then went on to ask regarding the increase of 60,000 jobs between 2015 and 2018, “How many were for Singaporeans and how many went to PRs?”
To which the Trade and Industry Minister replied, “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question? First, has local unemployment increased with all these efforts?
The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Our people are getting good jobs. Are our wages going up? Yes, and it’s faster than many other countries. Those are proof points to show that we are doing right by Singaporeans. But I’m always very cautious about this constant divide — Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting.
I’ve just spent the last half an hour explaining and sharing with this House how we are working hard to make sure Singaporeans do so.
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.”