Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Singaporeans' concerns about foreign talent: Chan Chun Sing addresses fears about foreigners taking jobs from locals

He gives assurance that Govt 'is on the side of Singaporeans' and has their interests at heart
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2020

The purpose of bringing in the right number of foreign workers, with the right types of skills, is to benefit Singaporeans, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing asserted in Parliament yesterday, addressing the hot-button issue of foreign talent.

Stressing that the Government put Singaporeans at the heart of its policies, he also sought to allay concerns about foreigners taking away better-paying jobs from locals, especially in the current climate of economic uncertainties.

In his detailed response to two MPs, he assured Singaporeans the Government understands their worries. "We will walk this journey together with you. This Government will always have your back," he said.

"The Government is on the side of Singaporeans. We will grow our economy and attract investments to create more good jobs for Singaporeans," he added, pledging to devote resources to enable Singaporeans to acquire the skills they need to stay competitive.

He went on to give an insight into the trade-offs involved as the Government attracts investments and seeks to create better-paying jobs for Singaporeans.

Some of these are in areas where there may not be enough Singaporeans with skills to match the jobs being created.

He asked if Singapore should reject investments that would bring in more foreigners, including some who would earn more than Singaporeans working in the same company. "Should we reject investments like Google, Grab and Facebook?" he asked.

Singapore cannot do this because such investments create higher-paying jobs for Singaporeans as well as for their children.

To drive home his point, he gave the illustration of a new investment creating two new jobs - one paying $7,000, and the other $10,000.

A Singaporean, who is earning $5,000 today, can get only the $7,000 job because he "does not yet have the skills or experience" for the $10,000 job.

While the Singaporean may feel he is being unequally treated, not accepting the investment will mean both the $7,000 and $10,000 jobs disappearing, he said.

He said while most Singaporeans accept this, what they want is a fair chance to get that higher-paying job, and what they oppose are practices that see them unfairly passed over. "The Government understands these concerns, and we stand together with fellow Singaporeans on this matter," he said.

That is why the Manpower Ministry is continually updating the Fair Consideration Framework to ensure a fair, level playing field for Singaporeans, he added.

The companies are also expected to train and groom Singaporeans. Most "play ball" because it makes business sense for them to localise, among other things, he said.

Mr Chan pointed out that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018. The professionals, managers, executives and technicians' share of local employment during this period went up three points to 57 per cent, a proportion that is among the highest in the world, he added.

Real average monthly earnings for employed locals grew 3.2 per cent yearly during this period, higher than the 2.4 per cent per annum in the previous three years, he said. It was also higher than most advanced economies such as the United States (0.5 per cent), Japan (0.8 per cent) and Germany (1.2 per cent).

Singapore must strive for what he called the "Goldilocks balance" in hiring foreigners.

"We cannot open the floodgates and drown Singaporeans. But neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce.

"Above all, we must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context. That is not the kind of politics we want," said Mr Chan.

* Of 60,000 new jobs created from 2015 to 2018, about 80% went to Singaporeans: Chan Chun Sing
Majority of new jobs created go to Singaporeans
Chan Chun Sing gives breakdown of local employment figures and explains PR performance in the workforce
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Jan 2020

About 83 per cent of the 60,000 new jobs created for the local workforce between 2015 and 2018 went to Singaporeans, and the rest to permanent residents.

Providing a breakdown yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said about 50,000 of the jobs created during that period went to Singapore citizens, and more than 9,000 to permanent residents.

This means there were five new jobs that went to Singaporeans for every one that went to a PR.

The proportion of PRs in new jobs is slightly higher than that of PRs in the local workforce, which is about six Singaporeans to one PR.

Mr Chan said the "slightly stronger" employment growth for PRs should be expected as they have been "pre-selected".

A spotlight was cast on the breakdown of Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners in the workforce after Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh asked for figures in Parliament earlier this month. Replying, Mr Chan said the Government does not have "anything to hide". But he questioned Mr Singh's intentions.

In an interview yesterday, Mr Chan said: "I know it is easy to politicise (the breakdown of local employment figures) and say, why is the PR performance slightly stronger than the Singapore citizen performance."

But there are very simple reasons for this, he said, noting that the Singaporean workforce is made up of a wider group of workers aged from 20 to more than 60 years old.

In comparison, the PRs who come in are those with "strong job opportunities".

"Because we pre-select the PRs, it would not be surprising that in some sectors, the PR performance is just slightly better than the Singaporeans," he added.

He said Singaporeans would be worried if the reverse were true, adding that the unemployment rate of Singaporeans and PRs is similar.

Citing "opportunists" who claim that the Government does not care about Singaporeans, and who point to the lower unemployment rate of foreigners compared with Singaporeans and PRs, he said: "The truth of the matter is, if a foreigner is unemployed, why would we want (him) to be in Singapore? So, the unemployment rate for foreigners in Singapore must be zero."

Reiterating numbers cited by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad in Parliament earlier this month, Mr Chan noted that the 23 key sectors with industry transformation blueprints cover about 80 per cent of Singapore's workforce.

Of the new jobs created in these sectors, the same five-to-one ratio stands, although it varies from sector to sector.

On the number of jobs held by Singaporeans and PRs versus foreigners, he said the proportion is three resident workers to around one foreign worker. This excludes jobs such as construction workers, which Singaporeans typically do not take up. Including such jobs, the ratio is two resident workers to one foreign worker.

He also said there would be more foreigners in the fastest-growing sectors like information and communications technology (ICT), which experience a worldwide shortage of people with the right skills.

Reiterating a point he made in Parliament earlier this month, he said this is not a static picture and the important question is whether Singaporeans are taking over such jobs over time.

"The answer is yes," he said, pointing to the graduate employment survey released on Tuesday which showed that polytechnic graduates last year had better job prospects than their seniors, and commanded slightly higher salaries.

"You will see that many of our graduates go into these jobs. This means that progressively, our people are taking over these higher-paying and better jobs, even though today, the local (to foreigner) ratio may be lower than three to one."

Mr Chan also gave the assurance yesterday that the majority of the 32,814 jobs coming on-stream in the next three to five years will go to Singaporeans.

The new jobs created are due to an unexpectedly large amount - $15.2 billion - in investment commitments in Singapore last year, which exceeded initial estimates of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Parliament: Bringing in jobs Singaporeans can aspire to
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2020

Singaporeans from past generations took on top jobs at global firms after acquiring the skills to do so, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday

They did not get these jobs initially. In the 1970s, the first three semiconductor companies in Singapore created more than 7,000 jobs over the span of three years.

However, Singaporeans did not get the best-paying jobs at National Semiconductor, Fairchild and Texas Instruments immediately because they lacked the skills or experience.

But in time, Singaporeans took over many of those higher-paying jobs, with many of the early engineers and technicians becoming senior executives, mentoring a new generation of Singaporeans, Mr Chan noted. Today, the same situation is taking place in the information and communications technology and software industries, he said.

"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, and land the investment first," he said in his reply to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Workers' Party MP Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC).

"I ask this House frankly: Do we agree with this approach? Do we hold that we should reject any investment on the grounds that the investment would result in more foreigners in Singapore, some earning more than Singaporeans in the same company?"

Arguing that most Singaporeans understand and accept the need for such investments, he stressed the need to work hard to upgrade Singaporeans' skills to take over the higher-paying jobs as soon as possible.

"But do not exploit sentiments to create envy, anger and frustration towards that foreigner who is now taking the $10,000 job."

He said the Government will continue to devote resources to help Singaporeans stay relevant and move into higher-paying jobs. "The Government is on the side of Singaporeans. We will grow our economy and attract investments to create good jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

"Unlike other countries, Singapore and Singaporeans do not need to fear competition. We know we have to remain open to the world," he said.

Singapore, he added, has the means to help its workers - something not many countries have the political mandate, will or necessary resources to do. "That is why their workers push back against global integration, trade liberalisation and so forth. But we are different."

He added that the real competition is not that of the Singaporean versus the permanent resident (PR) here versus the foreigner, but rather Team Singapore - comprising Singaporeans, PRs and foreign workers here - competing with the rest of the world.

Chee Hong Tat clashes with WP chief Pritam Singh: Data on employment is clear
After WP chief's post on PRs and citizens, Senior Minister of State says outcomes for workers are what matters most
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 10 Jan 2020

Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat has responded to a Facebook post by Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh, in a continuing debate over employment data that began in Parliament this week.

He said on Wednesday night that the data on employment growth in 23 key industries, which Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad gave on Monday in Parliament, was comprehensive and clear. It detailed employment growth for Singaporeans and PRs, and showed that employment for foreigners has dipped.

"I am puzzled why Mr Singh failed to acknowledge these statistics in his Facebook post," he added in his own post.

Mr Singh, in his post on Tuesday, said the Government often does not classify Singaporeans as a standalone category. "PRs are also included, collectively categorised with Singaporeans as 'locals'," he pointed out. This classification makes it difficult to consider the problems Singaporeans face and the policy options to boost their career prospects, he added.

Hence, his party's MPs will file questions in Parliament to get data that is now unavailable or "not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing", he said.

Mr Chee, however, said that what matters most are the outcomes for workers. Further, most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality.

But results on this front have been encouraging, with Singapore remaining globally competitive in attracting investments, and wages of Singaporean workers going up, among other things, he said.

Mr Chee's remarks came after an exchange in Parliament on Monday between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Mr Singh.

The WP chief had asked for a breakdown of the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the industry transformation maps (ITMs), which are blueprints that map out how 23 key industries in Singapore should transform themselves for the future. Most of the ITMs were launched in 2018.

Mr Singh had also asked if the Government would in future provide more employment data with a breakdown of jobs that went to Singaporeans and PRs.

Replying, Mr Chan said the Government does not have "anything to hide". But he questioned Mr Singh's intentions.

Stressing the Government has done right by Singaporeans, the minister said local unemployment has not increased as a result of its economic policies. Wages are also going up, and at a faster rate than those in many countries, he added.

"I'm always very cautious about this constant divide - the Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting... It's not the data, it is the point of the question," he said.

Mr Singh, in his Facebook post on Tuesday, noted that grouping PRs and Singaporeans as "locals" makes it difficult, among other things, to track and consider policy options to boost the employment and career prospects of Singaporeans - "something every civic-minded citizen and most of us political moderates with a stake in Singapore should be concerned about", he wrote.

Also, without data specific to Singaporeans "there is much less scope for members of the public to rely on education and facts to counter fake news and falsehoods".

Falsehoods also fester far more when facts are available but not made public, he noted.

"In post-Pofma Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways," Mr Singh said, referencing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

Replying, Mr Chee stressed that good jobs continue to be created and that PRs have contributed economically and socially to Singapore.

"More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens," he said, noting that Mr Singh would be aware of this as the WP has joined People's Action Party MPs in advocating that foreign spouses and children of Singaporeans be given priority in Singapore citizenship.

"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," he said.

Parliament: Total employment in 23 key industries up 19,500 from 2015 to 2018
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2020

Total employment in 23 key industries in Singapore with blueprints to help them transform grew by 19,500 between 2015 and 2018, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told Parliament yesterday.

This was made up of an increase in employment of Singaporeans by 39,300, and of permanent residents by 8,600. There was also a decrease in employment of foreigners by 28,500, he added.

Mr Zaqy was replying to a question from Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), who asked for details on the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners for each industry covered by the blueprints, known as industry transformation maps (ITMs). These were launched progressively from late 2016, with the majority launched in 2018.

Mr Zaqy also said it would be more meaningful to look at employment outcomes over the medium to long term, as the changes in workforce profile depend on a variety of factors which can be structural or cyclical in nature.

Singaporeans have consistently worked hard to update their skills and stay relevant, he said, noting that the training participation rate of the resident labour force aged between 15 and 64 increased from 35 per cent to 48 per cent.

Some 93,000 locals have also moved into new jobs through the Adapt and Grow initiative from 2016 to September last year, he added.

Responding to a question from labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) as to whether the Manpower Ministry is reviewing measures to monitor recalcitrant companies which flout the Fair Consideration Framework, Mr Zaqy said more details will be announced next week.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday that Singapore's productivity performance was stronger than or comparable to most Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries between 2008 and 2018.

Total factor productivity (TFP) here increased 0.5 per cent per annum or 12 per cent of economic growth of 4.5 per cent a year between 2008 and 2018, similar to that for Germany and the United States, and higher than France's 0.3 per cent uptick over the same period.

TFP measures economic efficiency and innovation.

In reply to WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera's question on the contribution of TFP to economic growth in the past 10 years and how Singapore's productivity compares to other countries, Mr Chan noted that Singapore's productivity growth had picked up in recent years - it had increased to 0.9 per cent per annum or 27 per cent of economic growth since 2016.

This increase was due to economic restructuring efforts and upskilling initiatives, he added.

Mr Chan also said Singapore is aware that to improve its productivity, it needs to emphasise the translation of research and development (R&D) outcomes into commercial enterprises, and not just R&D for its own sake.

Replying to further questions from Mr Perera, Mr Chan said that continuous training must be in Singapore's DNA, which would enable us to "get into lifelong employability and not lifelong employment".

More plans to tackle employment training will be announced in the Budget, which will be delivered next month, he added.

Parliament: Building trust is vital if facts are to sway voters on hot-button issues
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2020

It is often said that facts speak for themselves, but two discussions in Parliament yesterday seemed to suggest this may not always be enough.

The sitting opened with a discussion on the economy and jobs, an abiding concern for Singaporeans, especially in the light of developments such as the United States-China trade tensions and Brexit bringing economic uncertainty.

In particular, the thorny old issue of whether Singaporean jobs are being taken up by foreigners has surfaced again.

It was the subject of a Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) action recently when the Singapore Democratic Party was taken to task over false claims that the number of Singaporean professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) employed has fallen sharply.

The party was asked to put up the correct facts alongside its Facebook posts and online article.

Yesterday, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) took up this issue, venting the concerns - some would say disquiet - on the ground with his question about the proportion of jobs that went to Singaporeans, as opposed to foreigners and permanent residents, in sectors undergoing transformation.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) also asked: Have Singaporeans benefited from the economic growth and job creation of the recent years and have they benefited more than foreigners?

The answer is a "resounding yes", Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing replied.

Facts were offered to back this assertion. Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad cited the employment figures of the 23 sectors for which industry transformation maps have been rolled out, in answer to Mr Singh.

From 2015 to 2018, the sectors saw 39,300 more Singaporeans and 8,600 more permanent residents (PRs) hired, and 28,500 fewer foreigners hired.

Mr Chan proffered more figures. In the same period, local employment increased by nearly 60,000 for the whole economy, and for every 100 Singaporeans in the workforce, 57 of them were in PMET jobs, one of the highest rates in the world, he said.

But he went further, and spent the bulk of question time setting out the context and explaining how the Government strives to achieve a "Goldilocks principle" on employment - ensuring that the balance of Singaporeans and foreigners employed is just right without closing the borders or opening the floodgates.

Mr Singh followed up with a request for the breakdown of the 60,000 figure: How many are Singaporeans and how many PRs? Can the Government be expected to provide this breakdown of its own accord in future?

He added: "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 the data if the Government is not going to provide it."

In his opinion, the availability of such data would help to make discourse about jobs more fact-based and put to rest "corrosive conversations" about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners.

Retorting that the Government does not have anything to hide, Mr Chan said providing data alone would not suffice.

"We can get you the numbers... (but) it's not the data, it's the point of the question," he added.

Questions which pit Singaporeans against foreigners seem to insinuate that "somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting", and it is such "invidious comparisons out of context" that also stoke anti-foreigner sentiments, he said.

Responsible politicians must firmly reject such comparisons along with falsehoods, he added.

"This is not the kind of politics we want, with far-right parties in the European continent stirring hate and fear against foreigners for political advantage," he said, noting that that was not the way Singapore managed to transform from Third World to First.

"And this is not how a confident and capable Singapore should face the future," he said.

The competition is not between Singaporeans and PRs or foreigners, he said, adding: "The real competition is Team Singapore, comprising Singaporeans, PRs and foreign workers here, competing with the rest of the world to give our fellow Singaporeans the best chance possible to win, not just in Singapore but across the entire globe."

The discussion on how facts need to be underpinned by trust continued when the House moved on to questions on Pofma. When it comes to fake news, said Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Walter Theseira, a key ingredient in insulating society against the scourge is the belief that the Government will be objective in declaring something as false.

But several developments have called this into question, they suggested.

With all four Pofma correction directions issued so far landing on opposition politicians and anti-establishment groups, a view has formed that there is a partisan political bias in the way the new law is being used, said Ms Ong.

Taking a similar line, Associate Professor Theseira asked if the identity of a person matters in establishing the test of public interest required for the law to kick in. If so, it would be akin to "setting up speed traps where the opposition drives", he added.

To these suggestions, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran asked if Ms Ong was saying that it would have been better if, instead of four Pofma orders, "we now have eight and four were non-partisan".

At least one person in the House felt so, and shouted a loud "yes" to laughter from other MPs.

But Mr Iswaran assured the House that the Government is not "training our sights on certain types of people or organisations", adding that it was an unfortunate convergence of coincidences that all four Pofma orders issued have involved people with political links.

He posed this question: "Wouldn't the member agree that the best way to maintain public trust in the Government and our institutions is to juxtapose the truth with the falsehood, and allow our citizens to decide what the facts are?"

Update to rules that deter discrimination against Singaporeans in hiring practices
By Malavika Menon, The Straits Times, 2 Jan 2020

Rules that ensure bosses do not discriminate against Singaporean workers by hiring foreigners will be updated this year.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Facebook yesterday: "Expect stronger deterrence for discrimination against Singaporeans when hiring, but also stronger support for employers who are committed to giving our people a fair chance."

Further details on the review of the Fair Consideration Framework will be disclosed in two weeks, a spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told The Straits Times.

Mrs Teo also outlined the ministry's milestones last year, including adopting a 10-year road map to raise the retirement and re-employment ages. She also noted that workplace fatalities have declined consistently since 2015 and have been at a record low of 1.2 per 100,000 workers for the past two years.

Mrs Teo added: "Everyone, including lower-wage workers, needs fair chances to progress. In a time of business disruptions worldwide, all of us need fair opportunities to re-skill and stay employed. In the unfortunate event of a retrenchment, we need fair payouts."

The Fair Consideration Framework was introduced in August 2014 on the back of a slowdown in the inflow of foreign workers after Singaporeans voiced unhappiness about them taking away good-paying professional, managerial and executive jobs from locals.

It stipulated that firms with more than 25 employees must advertise professional, managerial and executive posts that pay less than $12,000 a month.

The advertisements need to run for at least 14 days before companies can apply to MOM for an Employment Pass (EP) for a foreigner.

The framework was last updated in July 2018 to cover firms with more than 10 employees and jobs that pay less than $15,000 a month.

Firms that favour foreigners in hiring are put on a watchlist and their applications for EPs are scrutinised more closely.

The ministry has placed about 600 firms on the watchlist since 2016 and about 2,300 EP applications have been rejected or withheld or withdrawn by employers.

Around 260 firms have been taken off the watchlist after their hiring practices improved.

The better way to create well-paying jobs for Singaporeans: Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing
The Straits Times, 7 Jan 2020

In Parliament yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing addressed the issue of striking a balance between hiring foreigners to grow the economy and fairness to the local workforce. Excerpts of his response to questions by Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Liang Eng Hwa follow.

Have economic growth and job creation benefited Singaporeans? And more importantly, as Mr Liang Eng Hwa asked, have economic growth and job creation benefited Singaporeans more than foreigners?

Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, the short answer to both questions is a resounding yes.

The crux of the Member's question is: Have we gotten the local-foreign workforce balance right? Not just in terms of quantity, but quality too. These are questions that the Government and our economic agencies constantly ask ourselves.

Too few foreign workers, especially PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) 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 Singaporeans.

Too many, and there will be push back, especially if Singaporeans feel unfairly treated. It is a never-ending balancing act with difficult trade-offs.

I often ask Singaporeans: If they can bring in only one more foreigner to complement our Singapore workforce, who will they bring in? Someone who is above our national average, or someone below our national average?

The most memorable answer that I have ever been given is by a young student who told me that we should bring in "the above-average one to grow the economy but below me".

This summarises the fears, concerns and aspirations of Singaporeans.

We know we need the above-average foreigner to complement our domestic workforce, so we can build a more competitive economy and provide better jobs with better pay for Singaporeans. But we also know that these foreigners will compete with us and we need to provide some safeguards for our people. This is an evergreen challenge.

How do we grow our existing companies and bring in new investments that can create good jobs for Singaporeans?


Suppose a Singaporean worker is earning $5,000 today. We bring in a new investment that can create two new jobs - one paying $7,000 and another $10,000.

The Singaporean can only get the $7,000 job today because he does not yet have the skills or experience for the $10,000 job. Should we take the investment? The Singaporean may feel frustrated. He may think he is being unequally treated because the foreigner earns more than him now.

We understand these sentiments, and we also want the $10,000 job to go to the Singaporean. But if we do not accept the investment for this reason, it will go elsewhere and both the $7,000 and the $10,000 jobs will disappear.

The Singaporean will continue to earn just $5,000, and he will have fewer opportunities to rise to a higher-paying job.

What is even more important, his son or daughter, currently in school, receiving one of the best educations in the world, will not be able to aspire to both the $7,000 and the $10,000 jobs.

Which is a better outcome for Singapore and Singaporeans? Not just for this generation but for the next.

Is this analogy far-fetched? No. It has happened before indeed in every generation throughout our history as an independent nation.

In the 1970s, this happened when we went out to attract the electronics industry. Over a span of three years, the first three semiconductor companies in Singapore - National Semiconductor, Fairchild and Texas Instruments - created more than 7,000 jobs.

But our people did not get the best-paying jobs immediately. Indeed, many of our Pioneer and Merdeka generations worked under higher-paying foreigners.

This was because they lacked the skills or experience at that point in time to take on the higher-paying jobs. But we did not reject these investments as a result.

Instead, we worked hard to learn and upgrade our capabilities. And in time, we took over many of those higher-paying jobs - including the better-trained or educated children of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations.

Today, the same thing is happening with the ICT (information and communications technology) and software industries. ICT will underpin many other industries - banking, finance, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence and so forth. It requires highly specialised skills and knowledge.

When global companies like Google, Grab, Facebook invest here, the reality is that we do not have enough Singaporeans with the relevant skills and experience to fill all the jobs they create.

We have raised our intake for computer science in our universities in recent years but there is a limit to further increases. Not every student has the interest or aptitude to study computer science, and we also need to groom talent for other sectors in our economy.

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, and land the investment first. Just as our previous generation did in the electronics industry. Create the jobs in Singapore first. Otherwise, we lose the $7,000 job now and we may never get the $10,000 (one).

Work hard to train our people and upgrade their skills to take over that $10,000 job as soon as possible. But do not exploit sentiments to create envy, anger and frustration towards that foreigner who is now taking the $10,000 job.


What Singaporeans want is a fair chance to get that $10,000 job as time goes by, if not as soon as possible. What Singaporeans do not want are unfair employment practices where Singaporeans are passed over because of non-meritocratic considerations.

This is why MOM (Ministry of Manpower) has the Fair Consideration Framework and is continually updating the system to ensure a fair, level playing field for Singaporeans. MTI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) and the economic agencies will watch over the enterprises to get them to train up and groom Singaporeans as part of their commitment to Singapore.

I believe the vast majority of companies know the deal. They play ball. They groom Singaporeans. Not just because we ask them to. But because it makes business sense for them to localise and avoid concentration risks for business continuity, as well as to grow the Singapore ecosystem, and win the support and respect of generations of Singapore workers. That is how successful enterprises have done well in Singapore.

However, we know that there are some black sheep amongst the enterprises. Their employment practices must change. If not, we will come down hard on them. They know this. We have taken action against them. And we will not hesitate to do so again.


Overall, this balanced approach has worked for Singaporeans. Between 2015 and 2018, local employment increased by nearly 60,000 for the whole economy.

The PMET share of local employment increased to 57 per cent - one of the highest rates in the world. It means that for every 100 Singaporeans in the workforce, 57 of them are in PMET jobs.

If 70 per cent of our people are going to graduate with degrees and diplomas, you can see the tremendous pressure on the aspirations for the next generation.

Our youth unemployment is among the lowest among advanced economies - testimony to the fact that our education system is providing the right foundation for our people to take up those jobs that are being created in the new economy.

What about growth in earnings? Growth in real average monthly earnings for employed locals was 3.2 per cent per annum during this period. Higher than the 2.4 per cent per annum in the preceding three years. Higher than most other advanced economies, such as the US (0.5 per cent per annum), Japan (0.8 per cent per annum) and Germany (1.2 per cent per annum).


The Government will continue to calibrate this balance carefully. 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.

If we get this balance right, as we strive for this Goldilocks balance, we must firmly reject more extreme positions.

We cannot open the floodgates and drown Singaporeans. But neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce. Above all, we must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context.

That is not the kind of politics we want - like far-right parties in the European continent stirring hatred and fear of foreigners for political advantage. That is not how Singapore transformed ourselves from Third World to First. And that is not how a confident and capable Singapore should face the future.

The real competition is not between the Singaporean versus the permanent resident (PR) here versus the foreigner here.

The real competition is Team Singapore, comprising Singaporeans, PRs and foreign workers here, competing with the rest of the world to give our fellow Singaporeans the best chance possible to win, not just in Singapore but across the entire globe.

Not Government's role to ensure employability

It was with great disappointment that I read about the apparent need for the Government to reassure Singaporeans about their employability (Chan Chun Sing addresses fears over foreign talent, Jan 7).

To begin with, the Government has already done an admirable job of attracting foreign companies - along with their globalised workforce - to set up shop in Singapore.

We should appreciate this as it is no mean feat in a world where cities are competing heavily to attract investment.

Getting any government in the world to force foreign companies to deliberately hire locals is neither possible nor desirable.

Businesses, by their very nature, hire to advance their own interests and profitability. To do otherwise is to go against the very purpose of a company in a capitalist economy.

If Singaporeans feel that they have become uncompetitive with respect to global hiring, let us reflect on why this is so.

I would hope that every Singaporean is responsible for securing his own employability, by ensuring that he has the right skills and can fit in with global corporate culture, norms and expectations.

Parents ought to ensure that their children have the right skills and values to become desirable employees, whether at small and medium-sized enterprises or multinational corporations.

Demanding that the Government take control over one's life and guarantee employability is an abdication of personal responsibility.

And, ironically, it reflects an undesirable character trait to any employer - foreign or otherwise.

Johann Loh Runming
ST Forum, 10 Jan 2020

** Singapore citizens' employment rate increased over last 10 years (from 60.0% in June 2009 to 63.6% in June 2019): Ministry of Manpower

Their PMET share up; real median income grew faster than that of the total resident workforce
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2020

The employment rate of Singapore citizens has risen over 10 years, along with the share of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) among working Singaporeans.

Their real median income, which takes into account inflation, has also risen faster than that of the total resident workforce, which includes permanent residents (PRs). Citizen unemployment, meanwhile, has remained low.

New figures on these trends were released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday in an occasional paper on citizens in the labour force.

As citizens consistently make up about 85 per cent of the resident labour force, their trends track closely those of resident data, MOM said in the report based on data from June 2009 to June last year.

There were 2.33 million residents in the labour force as of June last year, comprising 1.97 million Singaporeans and 360,000 PRs.

Employment outcomes for citizens may be slightly lower than those of the wider resident population because people usually have to show good employability to get PR status, said the ministry.

The citizen employment rate rose to 63.6 per cent last year, up from 60 per cent year in 2009, driven by workers aged 65 and older.

Meanwhile, the residents' rate remained within 1.4 to 1.7 points higher, rising to 65.2 per cent last year from 61.6 per cent.

Also, the employment rates for working-age citizens - those between 25 and 64 - climbed to 80.5 per cent from 75.6 per cent.

For residents, the rate was between zero and 0.3 points higher in the 10-year period.

The employment rates of citizens and residents may diverge over time as the population ages, with older cohorts typically having lower employment rates, said MOM. Around 27 per cent of working-age citizens were in the 55 to 64 age group, compared with 10 per cent of working-age PRs.


Among employed citizens, the share of PMETs climbed to 55.8 per cent last year, up from 47.4 per cent in 2009. For residents, the corresponding figures were 58.3 per cent and 51.4 per cent.

MOM's report comes after the issue of whether citizens have access to good jobs was widely discussed, with questions raised in Parliament earlier this month.

The ministry last released such an occasional paper in 2011 with data for the full decade to 2010. The next release was planned for next year to take in the full decade to 2020, but it has now been brought forward.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in an interview last week that about 83 per cent of the 60,000 new jobs created for the local workforce between 2015 and 2018 went to Singaporeans, and the rest to PRs.

He noted that the Singaporean workforce is made up of a wider group of workers aged 20 to older than 60, while the PRs who come in are pre-selected and those with "strong job opportunities".

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that "there is no sinister reason" as to why data on residents are not broken down into citizens and PRs.

"Internationally, statistical agencies cover the entire population residing in their country without a breakdown by nationality. The aim is comprehensive data coverage, so that analyses and comparison are accurate and meaningful," she said.

Also, Singapore citizens make up a large majority of the resident labour force, and the PR population is relatively small.

"The PR population does not have significant impact on trends and presenting more data sets all the time - resident, citizen, PR - provides little additional information," said Mrs Teo. "Nonetheless, over longer time periods, it is useful to take a closer look at citizen data in a holistic way, which is the purpose of such occasional papers."

She expressed confidence that Singaporeans "will understand this approach to statistical reporting and not fall prey to attempts to sow distrust between the Government and the people through suspicious lines of questioning that see shadows where there are none".

An MOM spokesman said yesterday that the ministry's surveys do not track when Singaporean respondents become citizens.


Citizens fared slightly better than residents on income growth for full-time workers, with real median income growing yearly, on average, by 3.9 per cent between June 2014 and June last year. These preliminary figures for gross monthly income include employer contributions to the Central Provident Fund.

For residents, the real median income growth was 3.8 per cent.

The average Singaporean enjoyed steady income growth in the last 10 years, with median monthly income rising to $4,333 last year. For residents, it was $4,563.

Nominated MP and university don Walter Theseira said that while data on the resident labour force allows for better comparisons with most countries, MOM can choose to publish data on other aspects of the labour force "which are of little interest internationally but which may have interest domestically".

"As a matter of national policy, we carefully select PRs in terms of their qualifications and contributions to our economy... We should then expect that PRs on average do better than native-born Singapore citizens economically," he said.

"I think acknowledging the differences clearly, and understanding what they mean for citizens and the economy, would be of value."

Retrenchments down among citizens and unemployment rate stays stable
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2020

Much ink has been spilled on the issue of Singaporeans' job prospects compared with that of permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners. Yesterday, data released by the Manpower Ministry (MOM) provided more grist to the mill.

It showed that the citizen unemployment rate had in fact remained stable, averaging 3.1 per cent from 2010 to last year. This mirrored the resident trend.

The ministry's Occasional Paper on Singapore Citizens in the Labour Force also noted that the unemployment rate for Singapore citizens stood at 3.2 per cent in June last year, slightly higher than the 3.1 per cent for all residents.

But this was to be expected, said MOM, as "PRs typically have to demonstrate a high degree of employability before being granted permanent residency".

When broken down by age group, those under 30 had the highest rate of unemployment - 6.2 per cent. But they took only a median of one month to find a job, compared with two months for all unemployed citizens. Those aged 50 and older took longer - three months, even though they were less likely to be unemployed.

The numbers are not surprising to Singapore Management University (SMU) associate professor of law Eugene Tan, who observed that recent graduates tend to be more selective. "The pressure to seek employment is not pressing for them," he said, adding that internships and further studies are a popular option during the waiting period.

Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira said higher job mobility and the uptake of more casual and contract employment among younger workers also explained the higher unemployment figures for the sub-30 group.

"Internationally speaking, there is no evidence to suggest we have a problem with youth unemployment," he said, citing International Labour Organisation statistics that put the global youth unemployment rate at around 13 per cent.

He added that while the data indicated that employment is not a serious challenge for older PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians), there is a need to understand whether they have enough job mobility and career advancement.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Christopher Gee said that while the median job search duration of one month is good news for those below 30, it would also be useful to find out their mean duration of unemployment.

"This will give some sense of whether there is a 'tail' of workers who might be unemployed for much longer than the median," he said.

Discouraged citizens - those no longer looking for work as they believe they will not succeed - fell in number to 6,700 last year, the lowest in 10 years. They now make up just 0.3 per cent of the citizen labour force.

The number of retrenched Singapore citizens also fell between 2016 and 2018 after two consecutive years of increase. This brings the incidence of retrenched citizens down to five per 1,000 citizen employees - lower than eight years ago.

SMU's Prof Tan attributes the low retrenchment rate to a lean workforce and more awareness of the social and individual impact of layoffs.

"More businesses have sought to re-deploy and re-train their workforce," he said. "Retrenchments are seen as a measure of last resort."

The issue of retrenchments came to the fore recently, when the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said in an online article that a rising proportion of Singaporean PMETs are being laid off.

In issuing its correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act last month, MOM cited data from its Labour Market Survey to show a falling number of retrenched local PMETs between 2015 and 2018.

Yesterday, a hearing was held between the SDP and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), to deal with what the AGC called deliberate mischaracterisations of its arguments by the party.

***  Parliament: Chan Chun Sing, Pritam debate whether Singapore can have zero growth in foreign workforce
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2020

It is theoretically possible to work towards zero growth in Singapore's foreign manpower, but it is very hard to achieve it in practice without serious implications and trade-offs for the economy, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Feb 4).

Such a move could result in missed investments, and company closures and job losses for Singaporeans, he told the House in his response to Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

Managing the growth of the foreign workforce is especially crucial because the size of the local labour force will peak in the next 10 years, said Mr Chan. This is due to the country's low birth rate and high labour force participation rate, which refers to the proportion of the population aged 15 and older who are either working or looking for work.

"If we maintain the current ratio of local (workers) to foreign (workers), when local peaks, foreign must peak, when local falls, foreign must fall - and the total must fall," said the minister.

"If we maintain the total, a stable total as local peaks and falls, foreign must take up the slack, which means the ratio must change. But whether the ratio can change will depend on whether our society can accept the change."

The issue sparked an exchange between two government officeholders and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, who suggested that a more extensive discussion on population policy be held outside the typical 90-minute question-and-answer (Q&A) time at a Parliament sitting.

Mr Chan noted that the Workers' Party had advocated for zero growth in foreign manpower in the past.


But such a policy could result in three difficult scenarios, he said, elaborating on an example he gave at last month's Parliament sitting.

First, a Singaporean could be earning $5,000 a month in his job, and a potential investment would create two jobs, one paying $7,000 and the other, $10,000.

With Singapore at essentially full employment and having a high labour force participation rate, if no new foreigners are allowed, there may be no spare capacity to take up the new jobs and the country would have to forgo the investment.

Second, a temporary surge in complementary foreigners could be allowed in to fill the new $7,000 and $10,000 jobs and Singaporeans doing the $5,000 jobs would move later to replace them.

But if no new foreigners come in to replace the Singaporeans, their company will probably have to close and the rest of its Singaporean employees will be out of work, said Mr Chan.

The third scenario is the most ideal, where productivity improves and the company with $5,000 jobs can release two Singaporeans to be retrained to take on the higher-paying jobs without needing new foreign workers.

"That is ideal but we also know that in the real world it is not easy to do, because different industries will have different opportunities for productivity growth... and the speed and scale at which we can retrain and upskill our workers are dependent on many factors. Whether we can do it in time to catch the new investment is always uncertain," said Mr Chan.

Manufacturing tends to have higher productivity growth than services, for instance, he noted.

Foreign workforce growth is thus one way to allow for circulation of manpower to overcome these limitations, he said.


WP chief Pritam Singh said his party had called for zero foreign manpower growth during the debate on the Government's 2013 Population White Paper, but it was conditional on the resident workforce growing at an annual rate of 1 per cent.

The WP has also made the point in its manifesto for the 2015 General Election.

During the 2013 debate, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said there would be a review of plans in the Population White Paper closer to 2020.

Referring to it, Mr Singh asked if there would be a debate or motion to allow for a more extensive discussion on the population policy, given how significant the upcoming decade will be for Singapore's overall strategy.

He noted that Parliamentary rules on Q&A time state that it should not be a pretext for a debate. "We've had episodes where Q&A time goes on to a pretty substantive issue and I think we perhaps should deal with it in another way."

Replying, Mr Chan said the Government would be happy to discuss such issues more in-depth with MPs.

"As leaders in our various capacity, we need to understand and have a shared understanding of these challenges, so that we can collectively carry the ground for the difficult decisions that we all have to take together for the next decade," he added.

He also said it is not a given that Singapore can achieve 1 per cent resident workforce growth or even the target economic growth trajectory. The current coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan, for instance, will have a significant impact on the economy.

Further, it is not a given that new immigrants will always choose to come to Singapore and supplement the citizen population.

"I always jokingly say immigration is the story of unrequited love - those that we want may not want us, those that we don't want may all want to come," said the minister.


Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat also sought clarification from Mr Singh on whether he did support the need for a local-foreign workforce complement.

Mr Singh said the balance is something his party has to look at very carefully, which is why they often ask for government data.

"All the time we ask for data, it's not data for the sake of data. It's to understand the Government's perspective, because it's not a case of throwing whatever the Government is saying out of the window or turning up our noses at it.

"But certainly we have to look at it very carefully. And if the Government makes a compelling case, then there's no reason for us to be objectionable about it," he said.

Parliament: Right mix of local-foreign manpower vital to grow economy and create jobs, says Chan Chun Sing
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2020

The workforce in Singapore requires the right mix of local and foreign manpower to enable people and enterprises to "punch above our weight". But continual fine-tuning is needed to achieve it, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Feb 4).

At the same time, the concentration of workers from various source countries must be managed according to the acceptance of foreigners by society and the manpower needs of employers, he told the House.

The minister, who had addressed the issue at length last month in various settings, sought again today to explain why foreigners are needed to bring in high quality investments and jobs for Singaporeans.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked about the Government's strategy for growing the economy and creating good jobs for Singaporeans without an over-reliance on foreign manpower.

Mr Chan replied that quality investments - both local and foreign - create quality jobs, which, in turn, provide good wages and opportunities, enabling Singaporeans to pursue their dreams.

The size and quality of the country's talent pool is critical to attract these investments, he said, while acknowledging the need for careful calibration.

"We need a balanced approach to our talent strategy. Too many foreign workers, and not necessarily just the lower skilled ones, and our local workforce feels overwhelmed. Too few, our local enterprises and workers are unable to achieve scale or competitiveness for the global market," he said.

"Hence, it is a strategy that requires constant fine-tuning to get the balance right for enterprises and workers."

In addition, the sources of foreign manpower must be diversified: firstly to ensure business continuity, and secondly, to manage issues that could arise from having too large a group from any one country.

"Singapore is a diverse, cosmopolitan and inclusive society. But we also must not ignore the public discomfort that can surface with too high a concentration of any particular foreign worker group," said Mr Chan.

He added that bringing in an investment, even if it means that some of the higher-paying jobs in that company are filled initially by foreigners, would still provide the opportunity for Singaporeans to be trained and upgraded to take on those roles as soon as possible.

Over time, the lower wage and less productive jobs will increasingly be moved out of Singapore and more of those that remain will be filled by foreign workers because most Singaporeans would shun such work.

With this approach, the size of the economy would have grown, with better jobs for citizens and a foreign complement appropriately sized, said the minister.

On the other hand, if quality investments are lost owing to a lack of good quality workers, that means a loss of competitiveness and good job opportunities for future generations, who may have to look elsewhere for a better option.

"Hence, to allow our people and enterprises to punch above our weight, we need a certain local-foreign complement, both in terms of quantity and quality," he said.

The Government has several strategies to keep the number of foreigners here at a "manageable level", he added.

It will continue to invest in education and the SkillsFuture initiative for lifelong learning to improve the skills and productivity of Singaporean workers.

It also needs to manage the number and quality of foreigners to strike a good balance between economic needs and social acceptance.

It will also ensure that citizens are treated fairly at work by punishing companies with unfair practices.

Finally, it must progressively enable more and more Singaporeans to take on new, higher-paying jobs from incoming investments.

****  Parliament: More public data needed to address misguided immigration views, says NMP Walter Theseira
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

As an immigrant nation, Singapore should treat immigrants as potential partners in building the nation and not just means to an end, Nominated MP Walter Theseira said on Thursday (March 26).

To do this, the Government needs to publish more data to support research that can help address misguided views on immigration, he told Parliament.

Without credible research and readily accessible data, "destructive narratives" about the quality and character of immigrants will gain a foothold, added Associate Professor Theseira, an economist with the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

For example, Prof Theseira noted that official labour statistics do not differentiate between citizens and permanent residents (PRs), but give data for citizens as well as for all residents - that is, citizens plus PRs.

In January, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh and Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing sparred in Parliament over the lack of such a breakdown.

Assoc Prof Theseira on Thursday provided estimates based on his calculations.

They show that among other things, compared to citizens, PRs earn roughly 35 per cent more, are more highly skilled and, being typically of prime working age, have a higher employment rate.

But PRs also face more economic risks and are about twice as likely as citizens to face retrenchment.

Commenting on this "mixed picture", Prof Theseira said most of the points should not be surprising, as permanent residency is often granted based on economic criteria, so if the selection of PRs is good, they should logically do better.

But the retrenchment issue needs further study, he said.

Researchers should not have to estimate such labour outcomes, Prof Theseira added, when publishing them outright would be easy.

"We must have the courage to accept the political risk of publishing facts on immigration that may be uncomfortable, but are nonetheless better than pleasant platitudes."

Responding to Assoc Prof Theseira, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said she admired his "mental acrobatics".

Mrs Teo said the Government's immigration policy does not serve just economic objectives. "Rather, we want to build a strong and resilient Singapore with a distinct sense of national identity and common destiny. We therefore prioritise new immigrants with the ability to integrate well into our society and who have expressed their commitment to sinking roots here," she said.

"Applicants who can make good economic contributions are certainly welcome, but that is not the sole criterion we consider."

PRs who can integrate well into society and have expressed longer-term commitment to Singapore are prioritised, she added.

Therefore, it "may be a rather narrow way" of thinking about PRs if it is only in terms of incomes and qualifications", she said, adding this was "really not at all what we set out to achieve".

Singapore also draws new citizens from the pool of PRs, and anyone might legitimately ask why PRs that do not do as well are being taken in, she added.

"So this debate won't end no matter how much research we do, and no matter how much facts and data we put out."

The Government would certainly welcome and look "deeply" into good research and useful suggestions in its regular reviews of immigration policies, said Mrs Teo.

The Republic can only afford to remain selective about who it admits if it remains an attractive and welcoming place for immigrants, she added.

Today, Singapore is in a good position, as the number of applications for PR and citizenship far exceeds the number of places granted - but this may not always be the case, she said.

"We must bear in mind this reality as we plan ahead to secure a better future for current and future generations of Singaporeans," she added.

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