Monday, 25 February 2013

WP releases own population paper

Counterproposal puts focus on raising total fertility rate and resident labour force participation rate
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2013

The Workers' Party (WP) yesterday issued its population paper as a counterproposal to the Government's.

It criticised what it called the Population White Paper's model of immigration-driven growth, and said that the focus should instead be on raising the total fertility rate (TFR) and the resident labour force participation rate.

The 38-page document, titled A Dynamic Population For A Sustainable Singapore, fleshes out points made by the nine WP MPs during this month's parliamentary debate on the White Paper, which they also voted against.



WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang said in a statement that the party hoped the paper "will enable Singaporeans to better understand the rationale and computations behind WP's proposals".

The paper argues that the best way to maintain a Singaporean core is by raising fertility rather than relying on new citizens. The WP has proposed taking in 10,000 new citizens a year compared to the Government's 15,000 to 25,000.

It believes that in granting citizenship, priority should be given to non-citizen spouses of Singaporeans. Its figure of 10,000 new citizens a year is based on a trend of more such marriages, which numbered more than 9,000 in 2011.

It identifies several structural obstacles to raising TFR, which it said the Government had not done enough to address in its latest enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package. These are: a lack of work- life balance, rising housing costs, income inequality leading to anxiety over economic risks, lack of gender equality in the family and a stressful education system.

The paper also argues that pro-natalist policy should not privilege higher-income families, nor should it withhold benefits from single parents.

Another key part of the WP's plan is growing the resident workforce at 1 per cent a year. If this target is met, the WP proposes to freeze foreign worker numbers at the current level.

To do this, the WP proposes getting more women and older Singaporeans into the workforce. Its target is for 85 per cent of women aged between 25 and 54 to be in the workforce, up from 76.6 per cent now. It points out that in Denmark, Finland and France, both TFR and the women's labour force participation rate are higher than Singapore's.

Meanwhile, older Singaporeans should not be seen as "dependants", but as "golden resources" and a vital part of the labour force.

And as Singapore's economy restructures, the WP suggests the Government "address the rental, capital and energy costs" that are holding back entrepreneurial small and medium enterprises.

On urban planning, the WP is against higher population density, and wants 10 per cent of total land area kept as land reserves, up from the Government's proposed 4 per cent in 2030. This would give the future generation more leeway in dealing with "economic and demographic exigencies".

Apart from hard policy, the paper also tackles issues of identity. On the idea of the "Singaporean core", the WP said that there is consensus on the need for one, but disagreement over its definition.

On Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's point that the Singaporean core is "not just about the numbers, but about the spirit", the WP said the proportion of Singaporeans is still crucial. The WP proposal will keep the share of citizens at around 60 per cent of the total population, as compared to 55 per cent by 2030 in the White Paper.

The more non-Singaporeans there are compared to Singaporeans, the higher the chances of "an ambiguous and indistinct national identity developing", it said.

The party also took issue with the use of a quote by the late deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam: "Being a Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry. It is conviction and choice."

Using this to argue in favour of being more open to new citizens is a "misunderstanding", said the WP. Mr Rajaratnam was making the point that other cultural identities had to be abandoned before national identity could be developed.

The WP said the best way to build a Singaporean core is to "ensure that more Singaporeans go through shared experience like in schools and family life and national institutions like national service".


WP'S IDEAS ON...

RAISING THE TOTAL FERTILITY RATE

Introduce regulations on work-life balance or give firms incentives to offer flexible working schemes

Housing grants of $10,000 for the birth of the first child, $15,000 for the second and $20,000 for the third

Government should give the Enhanced Baby Bonus without the family having to make matching contributions

Two-week "bonding leave" for fathers, on top of paternity leave

Same parenthood benefits for single parents and married couples


RAISING THE LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE

With existing programmes as a basis, encourage more flexi-work schemes and tailor them to mothers' needs

Get more firms to set up workplace childcare centres

Redesign jobs and work processes to adapt to elderly workers' needs

Stronger administrative and legislative measures against workplace gender and age discrimination, including discrimination against pregnant women and mothers with infants




Grace Fu: Govt studying paper
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2013

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu responded to the Workers' Party's (WP's) population paper on Facebook last night.

The Government was "studying the paper", she said. She noted that the report appeared to be a collation of what the party had raised in Parliament. Many points had been responded to.

She noted the WP's agreement with the Government on the need to make marriage and parenthood a priority, increase productivity and raise labour participation among older Singaporeans and women.

"These are priorities that the Government has been pursuing vigorously for some time," she said.

The key difference was in approach, she added, with the WP wanting to freeze foreign workforce numbers immediately, whereas the Government wants to tighten inflows but give businesses time to adjust.

The WP's stance on foreign labour "will cause great hardship to Singaporeans and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)". Health care and the construction of flats and train lines will also be badly affected, she added.

Ms Fu also asked how adding women and senior citizens to the workforce, as WP proposed, could fill the need for foreign workers "where we need them most - such as construction and cleaning/ maintenance".

As for the WP paper's look at South Korea as a model for fertility policy, Ms Fu said the Government studied many countries before coming up with its policy package.

She noted that South Korea's recent total fertility rate was 1.23 and Seoul's 1.02, "lower than Singapore's despite having implemented the package since 2005".




Workers' Party proposals are not new: Ng Eng Hen
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 25 Feb 2013

TWO Cabinet ministers responded to the Workers' Party's (WP) population paper yesterday, saying that the proposals it contained were not new and that while others might write papers, it was the Government that must safeguard Singaporeans' livelihoods.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that the Government remains open to "good ideas from anywhere" to solve the nation's population problems.

As for the proposals in the WP paper, he said "I don't think they were new" as they were raised during the Parliament debate on the Population White Paper and arguments went "back and forth".



The WP advocates raising the resident labour force participation rate and freezing foreign worker numbers at the current level.

But population policies involve trade-offs, Dr Ng said. "If you slow down foreign workers, SMEs go bust and Singaporeans lose their jobs, they are not trivial problems. They are real problems."

He also noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had in his speech during the Parliament debate, spelt out what the Government would do to meet challenges in three areas:
- Marriage and parenthood;
- Infrastructure;
- Strengthening the Singaporean core.
There has already been "a lot of debate", Dr Ng said, so the focus should now be on "producing results".

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a fund-raising event at Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC where he is a Member of Parliament.

Over at Bukit Timah, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said after visiting a hawker centre that "anyone can write a paper" or "make a speech in Parliament", but the difference is that the Government has the responsibility to turn plans into action.

"We cannot afford to take risks with the livelihood and the quality of lives of Singaporeans," he said.

Without naming the WP, Dr Balakrishnan added: "We need to ensure that our plans are realistic, do not crash the economy and do not in the name of trying to score political points, make life more difficult or deprive our children of the opportunities that they need."

Dr Ng and Dr Balakrishnan's comments yesterday came a day after Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu said that the Government was studying the WP's population paper.


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