Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat has followed his ruling party colleague Chan Chun Sing’s lead and continued an argument with Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh over employment data that first erupted in Parliament on Monday (6 Jan).
Mr Pritam had asked the Minister for Manpower whether the ministry will detail the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITM) henceforth; and whether it can provide these statistics for each ITM since the inception of the respective ITMs to date.
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad responded 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.
He said that the ministry’s annual report provides the local-foreign work force breakdown in broad sectors but did not provide a breakdown of data for each specific ITM as Mr Pritam requested.
The WP chief pressed 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.” He also asked the Government to make it clear if it will not provide the requested data since “it’s pointless for us to keep asking for that data if the Government is not going to provide it.”
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing joined the fray and snapped: “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.”
When the opposition leader asked how many of the 60,000 jobs that were increased between 2015 and 2018 went to Singaporeans and how many went to permanent residents, Mr Chan shot back: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question?”
Mr Chan asserted: “The ultimate competition is not pitting Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign work force…competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.”
In a Facebook post published on Tuesday (7 Jan), Mr Pritam explained that he had tabled the questions for the Manpower Ministry since many ITMs do not make clear whether their target is good jobs for Singaporeans.
He added that most employment statistics released by the Government also lump permanent residents together with citizens instead of providing data on jobs for Singaporeans specifically.
Noting that this makes identifying issues afflicting the Singaporean work force difficult and also creates obstacles in tracking and considering policies to boost Singaporean employment and career progression, Mr Pritam said:
“Minister Chan confirmed that the Government had nothing to hide and could provide the information sought.
“Going forward, the Workers’ Party MPs will file the questions to get the data that is currently unavailable or not presented publicly by the Government or not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing.”
Mr Pritam added that the information he sought is necessary in part to counter falsehoods on manpower issues. Asserting that the Government cannot have its cake and eat it too after enacting anti-fake news legislation, he said:
“Separately, this information is necessary because, amongst other reasons, without hard data, there is much less scope for members of the public to rely on education and facts to counter fake news and falsehoods.
“Falsehoods fester far more when the facts are available but not made public. In post-Pofma Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways.”
Mr Chee Hong Tat rebutted Mr Singh’s comments in a Facebook post published on Wednesday (8 Jan).
Asserting that Mr Zaqy and Mr Chan explained clearly how Singaporeans have benefited from economic policies, Mr Chee indicated that their responses should be more than sufficient since “most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality.”
Mr Chee said: “The data that MOS Zaqy provided in Parliament are comprehensive and clear. I am puzzled why Mr Singh failed to acknowledge these statistics in his Facebook post.”
Mr Chee reiterated Mr Chan’s point that the Government “puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do” and has to constantly balance multiple trade-offs as it grows the economy. Asserting that the “outcomes” for Singaporean workers are what’s most important, he said:
“In growing our economy, we constantly balance multiple trade-offs, including the extent to which we bring in foreigners to complement our local workforce. What matters most are the outcomes for our workers.
“On this, the results are encouraging – Singapore remains globally competitive in attracting investments, unemployment has remained low, wages of Singaporean workers are going up and good jobs continue to be created now and in the future.”
Mr Chee appears to be saying that the end justifies the means – as long as the outcomes for Singaporeans remain good, “trade-offs” like foreigners getting better paying jobs in an interim period is justified.
Mr Chan had made a similar point in Parliament when he was sparring with Mr Pritam.
Calling the issue of local-foreign work force numbers a perpetual balancing act, Mr Chan said that 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 work force is better trained, Singaporeans could occupy the positions once held by foreigners, pointing out that between 2015 and 2018, local employment increased by almost 60,000.
Echoing his colleague’s views, Mr Chee said that the Government has achieved these outcomes for Singaporeans by staying united and working together. Insinuating that Mr Pritam’s parliamentary questions are divisive and could be an attempt to “drive a wedge” between different groups in society, he said:
“We have achieved these outcomes by staying united and working together. Let us not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy.
“The PRs in our workforce have made contributions to Singapore, both economically and socially, even though they receive lower subsidies and fewer benefits than citizens.
“More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens, as Mr Singh would be aware since the Workers’ Party has joined PAP MPs in advocating for foreign spouses and children of Singapore citizens to be given priority for Singapore citizenship.
“We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain. Only then can we continue to progress together as Team Singapore.”
During Parliament Sitting on Monday (6 January 2020), Minister Chan Chun Sing and MOS Zaqy Mohamad explained clearly to…