Home News Featured News Singaporeans really don’t want to play second fiddle to foreigners

Singaporeans really don’t want to play second fiddle to foreigners

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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Lawrence Wong asked for it and he may be finding out that he and his team have their work cut out in their Forward SG journey. Never mind all the passion shown by Manpower Minister Tan See Leng when he spoke in Parliament in September about how his ministry will carefully vet applicants for the new One Pass and put in place safeguards against abuse. We now know that not all Singaporeans are entirely convinced that opening our doors wider to bring in foreign talents is a good thing in the first place or benefits them as much as Tan and the government believe it does. Putting in safeguards to prevent abuse is akin to trying to catch the horse after it has bolted. Singaporeans are beginning to say No.

A Straits Times commissioned survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents just showed that only 40 per cent agreed that Singapore has struck the right balance in bringing in foreign workers and protecting local jobs. Some 44 per cent of Singaporeans and permanent residents did not think so.

“Strategic advisory consultancy BowerGroupAsia Singapore managing director Nydia Ngiow noted that even among younger respondents, a sizeable number believe the country has not struck the right balance,” The Straits Times reported. “She said this could be a reflection of their insecurities around job prospects resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the return of more foreign workers since Singapore’s reopening in recent months. It will be crucial for the government to continue engaging this segment of the population, especially since this group will play a bigger role in upcoming elections.”

So it looks like the issue of Singaporeans facing workplace discrimination in their own country has not died down, despite whatever efforts have been put in to calm true-blue anxieties and anger which were clearly manifested in GE2011 when current Health Minister Ong Ye Kung was part of the PAP’s badly beaten team in Aljunied GRC. Far from it, this One Pass thing may have quietly reignited the resentment. If not, why do so many Singaporeans believe they are going to find it difficult not only to get a job but also to move up the career ladder?

And, to rub it in, it is not as if Singaporeans are having such a good life. Cost of living is rising. A GST hike is around the corner. There is global inflation with an impending recession. Public housing is no longer what it was in the early years when the spirit of loyalty/gratitude was such that NSmen were given priority to jobs and HDB flats.

And this is how a Hong Kong newspaper, South China Morning Post, portrayed the rising resentment:

“Singapore’s age-old tensions over hiring foreign workers have resurfaced as the city state joins the global race to court top talent, spurring fears that domestic jobseekers may be crowded out from employment at a time of growing anxiety over the direction of the economy.

“As the world vies for foreign talent to ease the manpower crunch in sectors like healthcare and technology, Singapore is making its pitch as an attractive location with ‘targeted enhancements’ to its existing work visa to bring in high achievers.

“But the issue of who should have first dibs at the best jobs has been a long-running sore point, with locals often accusing companies of subjecting them to unfair hiring practices and favouring less-qualified foreigners for some roles.

“The common question is, ‘why are companies looking to employ overseas talent instead of training locals?’” said David (not his real name), a Singaporean who works in management at a bank in the city state.”

I’ll also repeat what Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party Sengkang RC wrte in his Facebook:

“One resident shared his thoughts about the new One Pass scheme. He just returned after a long stint in China, and had a difficult time securing a job here, despite his extensive experience and solid skill set. He expressed his concern that One Pass—despite its high qualification bar—would ultimately end up exacerbating the difficulties locals faced in advancing to the upper tiers of the corporate hierarchy, thereby relegating them to being trapped in middle management. This fear was further corroborated by his impression that many foreign nationals working here tended to favour their own countrymen, further alienating Singaporeans when they seek a job at home.”

The government needs to do the following:

  • Categorically assure Singaporeans that they will never become bit-players in their own country
  • Track the proportion of Singaporeans taking up senior corporate leadership roles in each sector and make a public report each time
  • Whistleblow the companies which game the system
  • Publicise and reward those companies which are consistently diverse

Or it will face a small tsunami of protests come GE2025 – or even PE2023.


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.


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