After 10-hour debate on foreign labour, motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs passed in Parliament

Year Total ICTs ICTs from India
2020 4,200 500
2019 4,400 600
2018 3,200 400
2017 2,600 400
2016 2,100 300

“These numbers have been consistently low,” Dr Tan said.

Dr Tan asserted that the PSP “fixates on the increase in the number of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to argue that locals have been displaced and have lost out”.

“It has painted a picture of widespread displacement based on the anecdotes it has heard. But how have local PMETs actually fared? MOM publishes this data regularly, at fine granularity, but the PSP has not made any mention of this,” said Dr Tan, adding that the PSP has asked for a “slew” of data, but not used any of it in its arguments.

The Manpower Minister said that he will focus instead on how local PMETs have actually fared, sharing in the House a series of numbers and charts on this.

Over the past decade, there was an increase of 110,000 EP and S Pass holders but local PMETs increased by 300,000, figures that were also shared by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong earlier.

“This goes to show competition between locals and foreigners is not a zero-sum game,” Dr Tan said.

In addition, local PMET unemployment, other than during crises, has generally remained at 3 per cent or lower. Meanwhile, the number of PMET job vacancies has “been on an upward trend” since 2010 and has been “hovering” around 30,000 over the past five years.

Lastly, he shared that median local PMET wages rose from S$4,600 in 2010 to S$6,300 in 2020, a rise of 38 per cent, or 21 per cent in real terms.

“In fact, the proportion of our workforce in PMET jobs is among the highest in the world at almost 60 per cent, doubling up from 30 per cent in the early 1990s – this is a very different picture from the dire situation that the PSP has portrayed,” said Dr Tan.

He then addressed measures proposed by Mr Leong and fellow NCMP Ms Poa to tighten Singapore’s foreign labour flow, challenging them to explain how their suggestions will not hurt Singapore’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

One of the proposals was to raise the qualifying salaries to S$10,000 for Employment Pass holders and S$4,500 for S Pass holders in the next three years.

Dr Tan countered that Mr Leong might not be aware that qualifying salaries rise with age and that the qualifying salaries cited by the PSP NCMP, S$2,500 for S Passes and S$4,500 for EPs, are the minimum qualifying salaries at the youngest ages. The EP qualifying salary for those in their 40s is twice the minimum, for instance.

“Many businesses, including the SMEs, are already crying out that they are not able to access the foreign PMETs that they need,” he said.

On setting quotas for locals and for any single nationality in a firm, Dr Tan said that it would be difficult to attract business in a new area here if there was not enough local talent in that area.

“If the PSP insists on a 30 per cent quota, then I would like to ask: Would you turn away a company that creates 69 high-end jobs for locals because it needs 31 foreigners?

“I worry that the PSP is calling for policies that are not only short-sighted, but protectionist, and this will do grave harm to Singaporeans,” he said.

Following his speech, both Mr Leong and Ms Poa raised clarifications. Ms Poa wanted to know, in particular, if growth in PMET numbers among locals was due to “reclassification” as mentioned in her speech.

She had raised doubts in her speech on a number Dr Tan had given, specifically that local PME jobs have increased by 380,000 from 2005 to 2020.

A portion of these jobs could be due to “reclassification”, a result of permanent residents (PR) becoming citizens, and foreigners becoming PRs, she said.

She then asked if a significant portion of the 380,000 increase in local PME jobs could have come from change in resident status of the job holders, not due to creation of new jobs.

“How many new local PME jobs were created, netting off the effect of reclassification?” she asked.

Despite Dr Tan saying that the majority of growth in PMET positions in the last decade went to Singapore-born citizens, Ms Poa raised the question a few times, asking for a specific number.

Ms Poa also touched on companies that try to circumvent work pass qualifying salary criteria by underpayment, meaning making inflated claims of salaries to MOM or having the employee return a portion of their salaries in cash.

She suggested that there should be audits on successful tenderers for large contracts to ensure firms comply with manpower policies. She also proposed that MOM license HR managers so that those who fail the standards can have their licences taken away.

“We are not asking for a closed economy or closed labour market, but a reduction in our reliance on foreign manpower to a lower level and keeping a close eye on wage growth while we adjust the level of foreign participation in our labour force,” she said.

Ms Poa also made the point that tightening the labour market will lead to higher wages, showing the link through real median wage growth and labour force growth from 2009 to 2019. Her conclusion was that labour force growth depresses real wage growth.

“If our priority is economic growth, then indeed we should welcome all foreign direct investments (FDI) even if they should require a huge influx of foreign manpower,” she said.

“But if our priority is wage growth, then we would be more selective and focused in bringing in FDI that benefit primarily local workforce and does not require a high proportion of foreign manpower.”

Mr Wong countered in his closing remarks that this was also a “simplistic” conclusion and wages will not automatically rise when labour markets tighten.

“Beyond a point, if wage increases are not matched by productivity increases, we will lose our competitiveness.”


Some Members of Parliament (MP) who spoke on the motions reiterated that many large companies in Singapore were playing a global game, and would not hesitate to leave the country if its policies did not suit them.

Without these companies, there would be no jobs for local PMEs in the first place, they said.

MP Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer) agreed that there should be skills transfer schemes to facilitate the transfer of skills from foreign specialists to local PMEs, adding that human resource (HR) standards should be raised to make their processes more transparent.

“HR practitioners, especially those in the recruitment functions, play a vital role in ensuring that the companies adhere to the employment legislation and regulations to improve compliance with fair employment practices,” he said.

“They are also the advocates for the recruitment of Singaporeans in positions within their companies. It is therefore important that we move towards increasing certification and accreditation of HR practitioners.”

But Mr Tay, who is part of the labour movement, opposed Mr Leong’s motion as he felt it suggested no concrete action has been taken to strengthen the Singaporean core of workers, when this has not been the case.

MP Vikram Nair (PAP-Sembawang) likewise opposed Mr Leong’s motion, arguing that Singaporeans’ job anxieties could be attributed to business difficulties, exacerbated during the pandemic, that lead to retrenchments. FTAs have nothing to do with this, he said.

Mr Nair said he also objected to Mr Singh’s proposal to amend Mr Wong’s motion and include a call to release more information, something Mr Nair called Mr Singh’s “pet topic”.

“There is actually a great deal of information out there already, this quarterly labour market data, advance market data coming out with breakdowns of Singaporeans and foreigners employed,” Mr Nair said.

“So, I think an insinuation that there isn’t adequate information out there is something I cannot support.”

After 10-hour debate on foreign labour, motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs passed in Parliament Source link After 10-hour debate on foreign labour, motion on securing Singaporeans’ jobs passed in Parliament

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