Workers’ Party (WP) Secretary-General Pritam Singh has asserted that the current political leadership of Singapore cannot expect to have it both ways after enacting anti-fake news legislation, in the wake of his parliamentary clash on Monday (Jan 6) with heavyweight ruling party minister Chan Chun Sing.
Mr Singh 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.
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…”
Mr Zaqy responded that the ministry’s annual report provides the local-foreign work force breakdown in broad sectors.
Mr Chan, the Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Assistant Secretary-General of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), subsequently stood up and said that he would like to respond to Mr Singh since his questions concerned the Government’s plan to grow the economy and create new jobs.
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.
Seeming dissatisfied with Mr Chan’s response, Mr Singh repeated his request for a breakdown of numbers when it comes to the local-foreign work force. He said: “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 shot back: “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.”
The opposition leader then 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 snapped: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question?”
Asserting that he had “just spent the last half an hour explaining and sharing with this House how we are working hard” to ensure Singaporeans are benefiting, Mr Chan 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.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (Jan 7), Mr Singh 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 Singh 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 Singh 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.”