Workers’ Party (WP) member Yee Jenn Jong has asked how the availability of employment data for Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) will “drive a wedge” in society.
The question comes in the wake of the recent clash on the matter in Parliament between WP chief Pritam Singh and People’s Action Party minister Chan Chun Sing.
Mr Chan, the Minister for Trade and Industry, sparred with Mr Singh after the opposition leader asked the Ministry of Manpower to disclose data on the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITM).
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad responded that there had been an overall increase of 19,500 jobs across the 23 sectors, with 39,300 more jobs for Singaporeans, 8,600 more jobs for permanent residents and 28,500 fewer jobs for foreign workers. He did not, however, provide the breakdown for each specific ITM that Mr Singh had requested.
The WP chief then pressed for more specific data so as to avoid “a corrosive conversation about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners”. He also asked the Government to make it clear if it would not provide the requested data because it would be “pointless for us to keep asking for that data if the Government is not going to provide it”.
Mr Chan, the Trade and Industry Minister, joined in the the fray and said: “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.” He added that local employment increased by almost 60,000 between 2015 and 2018.
When Mr Singh asked how many of the 60,000 jobs 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?”
He said: “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.”
On Facebook later, Mr Singh explained that he had tabled the questions concerned for the Manpower Ministry as current data on citizen employment was not clear. This was because employment statistics released by the Government lumped PRs with citizens, instead of providing data on jobs for Singaporeans specifically.
Mr Singh pointed out that this made it difficult to identify the issues afflicting the Singaporean work force. He stressed that the information he sought was necessary in part to counter falsehoods on manpower issues.
The Senior Minister of State, Mr Chee Hong Tat, also took the issue to Facebook and insinuated that Mr Singh’s questions were divisive and could be an attempt to divide different groups in society.
He said Singapore should “not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy.
“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.”
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (Jan 15), Mr Yee questioned how asking for data on employment will drive a wedge in society. He wrote:
“The Government is often too guarded with giving information. I fail to see how giving data about job creation with finer details of breakdown between Singaporeans and PRs will drive a wedge.
“If the data is good, then well done and keep it up. If data is not so ideal, then we need to see how to work on improving employment places for Singaporeans. How will the data drive a wedge?”
Echoing his party leader’s views that not disclosing data will simply fuel falsehoods, Mr Yee asserted: “These are not state secrets. By having data and not disclosing them (even when asked in Parliament), then it will just fuel speculations and false information online.
“And then the Government use Pofma when there are false information but we need reflect if the information are deliberately false or if data are lacking or ambiguous and users are interpreting them differently.”
He added: “When it is convenient for the Government, they can release even more ‘sensitive’ data that one can easily argue will drive a wedge between say races in society. That data, they say can help the groups better monitor the effectiveness of their programmes. And when they do not want to say anything, one will get accused for wanting to drive a wedge.”