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Chan Chun Sing, Pritam Singh spar in Parliament over data on distribution of new jobs among S'poreans and non-citizens

SINGAPORE — The perennial debate over Singapore's foreign worker policy saw Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing cross swords on Monday (Jan 6) with opposition leader Pritam Singh, who repeatedly asked for a breakdown of the number of new jobs that went to Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners.

Chan Chun Sing, Pritam Singh spar in Parliament over data on distribution of new jobs among S'poreans and non-citizens

Singapore's oft-debated foreign worker policy sparked an exchange between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh in Parliament on Monday (Jan 6).

SINGAPORE — The perennial debate over Singapore's foreign worker policy saw Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing cross swords on Monday (Jan 6) with opposition leader Pritam Singh, who repeatedly asked for a breakdown of the number of new jobs that went to Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners.

Mr Singh, who is the Workers' Party chief and a Member of Parliament for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), had tabled a parliamentary question asking for the number of jobs created in each of the sectors covered under the Government's Industry Transformation Maps and broken down according to the three groups.

In response, Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad said employment for these 23 sectors grew 19,500 overall, a result of an increase in employment for 39,300 Singaporeans and 8,600 PRs, and a decrease in employment for 28,500 foreigners.

Not satisfied, Mr Singh pressed Mr Zaqy for more specific numbers, arguing that this would allow conversations to be more fact-based. “And you don’t have a corrosive conversation about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners, et cetera,” he said.

While specific data on each industry undergoing transformation was not provided, Mr Zaqy said that the Manpower Ministry already gives the local-foreign workforce breakdown of broad sectors in its annual employment report.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa then chimed in to ask whether any economic growth that may have resulted from industry transformation had benefited Singaporeans more than foreigners.

This prompted Mr Chan to rise and give a speech that lasted almost half an hour, saying that he would address the questions from Mr Liang and Mr Singh as they related to the Government's strategies for growing Singapore’s economy and creating jobs.

Among other things, Mr Chan said that getting the local-foreign workforce balance right is an evergreen challenge. And to ensure that future generations of Singaporeans would always be employable for the jobs of tomorrow, one of the trade-offs would be that some investments brought in today might lead to foreigners being employed in higher and better-paying positions than Singaporeans.

Over time, with more jobs created and more Singaporeans being trained, they may one day take on the top job that was once occupied by a foreigner, he added. He also noted that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018.

Following Mr Chan's speech, Mr Singh repeated his request for the data breakdown, sparking a brief but sharp exchange between the pair.

Here are excerpts of the exchange:

Mr Singh: "My original parliamentary question really was a question seeking data. Minister for Trade and Industry spoke of the local PMET share going up (from) 54 per cent to 57 per cent. And my question really is can we expect in future — either by way of (response to) a parliamentary question or by the Government on its own accord — (to be given data broken down) into Singaporeans and PRs? 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: "I don't think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data."

Mr Singh: "If that is the case, then for (the increase of 60,000 in local employment between 2015 and 2018)… How many were for Singaporeans and how many went to PRs?"

Mr Chan: "We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: What is the point behind the question? First, has local unemployment increased with all these efforts?

"The answer is a resounding 'no'. Our people are getting good jobs. Are our wages going up? Yes, and it's faster than many other countries. Those are proof points to show that we are doing right by Singaporeans. But I'm always very cautious about this constant divide — Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting.

"I’ve just spent the last half an hour explaining and sharing with this House how we are working hard to make sure Singaporeans do so.

"It’s not the data — it is the point of (Mr Singh's) question. And I would like to remind this House: The ultimate competition is not pitting Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce... competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible. How many increase in the (number of) jobs go to Singaporeans? Enough for us to keep unemployment rate at the level which many countries would say it's 'friction' — and that is how we’ve done it."

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Jobs break down Pritam Singh Chan Chun Sing Singapore citizen Permanent Resident foreign talent employment

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