SINGAPORE: To ensure the Singapore economy continues to grow and good jobs created for Singaporeans, the Government cannot take extreme positions on the intake of foreign workers, said Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Jan 6).
He told parliament that the Government will continue with its balanced approach, carefully calibrated.
"The balance is struck by considering three factors: The needs of our industries and enterprises, the needs of our workers of this generation and the opportunities for our children in the next generation," he said.
Earlier, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad had provided the house with data on how more jobs have been generated for Singaporeans compared to permanent residents and foreigners in response to a question from Workers' Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP), Mr Pritam Singh.
Mr Singh had asked for the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners for each industry covered by the 23 Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) rolled out progressively since late-2016.
Replying, Mr Zaqy said more time is necessary to measure the impact of the ITMs, especially as most were launched only in 2018. Nevertheless, he revealed that between 2015 and 2018, total employment (excluding foreign domestic workers) in these sectors grew by 19,500.
This was made up of an increase in employment of Singapore Citizens (SCs) by 39,300; an increase in employment of Permanent Residents (PRs) by 8,600; and a drop in employment of foreigners by 28,500.
In response to CNA queries, the Ministry of Manpower indicated that the figures provided by Mr Zaqy were rounded to the nearest hundred.
"These numbers are encouraging because we have been making the effort to secure jobs for Singaporeans," Mr Zaqy said.
"SINGAPOREANS AT THE HEART OF EVERYTHING WE DO"
In response to supplementary questions from Mr Singh and People's Action Party (PAP) MP Liang Eng Hwa, Mr Chan explained at length how the Government has always focused on creating jobs for Singaporeans.
To help Singaporeans remain employable, the Government has invested in continuing education strategies such as the SkillsFuture movement and Adapt & Grow initiatives.
“It is not just about lifelong employment, it is about lifelong employability,” Mr Chan said, adding that the Governments understands that Singaporeans are worried about the future, especially matured workers who have not undergone any form of training since they started working.
This issue will be touched on at this year’s Budget, he said.
“This Government puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do. We pursue growth not for growth’s sake alone. We pursue growth so as to improve the lives of Singaporeans.”
At the same time, the Government must also be mindful of the needs of businesses, he said.
To grow - and in the process create better jobs for Singaporeans and the future generation - these companies might have to hire foreign workers for the time being, he said.
Right now, some Singaporeans might lack the skills and experience to take on higher-paying jobs. There may also be an insufficient number of Singaporeans to take on available, high-skilled jobs in emerging sectors such as infocomm technology.
"So do we go out and attract these investments like Google, Grab and Facebook, not just for this generation, but more importantly also for the next? I say we do."
“Land the investment first… create those jobs in Singapore first,” the minister said, then “work hard to train our people and upgrade their skills” to take over the jobs filled by foreigners.
The Government will continue to ensure that locals are not passed over in jobs, with punitive measures taken against companies that have unfair employment practices, he added.
"Just last week, Minister of Manpower announced plans to update the fair consideration framework and businesses that deliberately exclude qualified Singapore job-seekers will suffer stiffer penalties," Mr Zaqy also said, adding that more details will be announced next week.
The country’s approach of attracting foreign investments while developing its current workforce and finding opportunities for the next generation has been a “balanced approach (that) has worked for Singaporeans”, he said.
He cited several figures, including the growth of the resident workforce: between 2015 and 2018, local employment increased by nearly 60,000; the share of local PMETs in the resident workforce also increased to 57 per cent.
Real wage growth between 2015 and 2018 also rose by 3.2 per cent per annum, higher than the 2.4 per cent growth per annum in the preceding three years and higher than most advanced economies such as the US and Japan, he added.
“We must firmly reject more extreme positions (of opening) the floodgates and drown Singaporeans,” Mr Chan said.
“But neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce.
"Too few foreign workers, especially PMETs with skills required by our growth sectors, means that our businesses cannot seize the opportunities out there and in the process create better jobs for all Singaporeans. Too many, and there'll be push back. Especially if Singaporeans feel unfairly treated. It is a never ending balancing act with difficult trade-offs," the minister said.
Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera in a supplementary question asked if the Government will update its underemployment indicator as some who lose their jobs in their 40s and 50s end up roles with “substantially lower pay”.
In response, Mr Chan said that the upcoming Budget will look into the issues mid-career workers face.
“What is even more important is not how we calculate underemployment (but how we) grow the jobs opportunities for (underemployed workers) to go on and take on a better paying jobs,” Mr Chan said.
Mr Singh also asked if the Government would be revealing more concise manpower data based on citizenship status “either by way of parliamentary question or by the government on its own accord”.
“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 is pointless for us to keep asking for the data if the government is not going to provide it.”
“I don't think we have anything to hide,” Mr Chan replied. “We have just shared the data.”
Mr Singh then asked for a breakdown of Singaporeans and PRs in PMET jobs.
In reply, Mr Chan said that the Government can provide he numbers, but asked “what is the point behind the questions?”
“I am always very cautious about this constant divide: ‘Singaporean versus PR’. The insinuation seems to be that somehow the Singaporeans are not benefitting.”
“I would like to remind this house the ultimate competition is not pitting the Singaporeans against the PRs it is about the team Singapore comprising of Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce competing to give the Singaporeans the best chance possible.”