Where is the “unique Singapore advantage” to protect our workers?

Andrew Loh

If one were to follow – and believe – what the Labour Chief and the Manpower Ministry say, one would be inclined to think that the unemployment situation here in Singapore is “not as bad as feared”, as one Straits Times report put it.

In the past few months, the picture painted was, at the very least, a hopeful one. Indeed, Ministers have been consistent in asking Singaporeans to be positive. Labour Chief Lim Swee Say, in particular, has been trumpeting the so-called “tripartite” relationship between the government, the unions and employers. “In Singapore we have tripartism, and the tripartism has served us very well,” he said in January this year. “It is a unique advantage, so as we go through this downturn, our challenge is to continue to unleash this unique Singapore advantage.” (Source)

It seems that even “unleashing this unique Singapore advantage” has not stopped the tide of retrenchments. Three months after Mr Lim made that statement, the Today paper reported that unemployment in Singapore had reached record levels not seen in six years.

Total redundancies hit 12,600 in the first quarter — a 34-per-cent increase from the fourth quarter last year. Among the resident labour force, unemployment reached a five-year high of 4.8 per cent in March, sharply up from December’s 3.6 per cent. (Source)

And as if to choke on his own words, Mr Lim was reported to have said, on the same day the Today report came out, that, “It is not a question of whether we will see a second wave of retrenchment, but a question of when it will reach the peak, how high the peak will be, how long it will last, and how many more workers will lose their jobs in this next wave.” (ST, 29 April, 2009)

So much for the “unique Singapore advantage”. It seems that the NTUC Chief is just sitting tight and waiting for retrenchments to peak. In the meantime, the situation continues to deteriorate. Headlines such as, “Jobless pool shrinks”, “Jobless rate hits 4.8%”, “Expect more layoffs …” provides proof of the dire situation.

Yet, in the midst of all these, one thing is conspicuously absent – any talk of protecting the average Singaporean worker. The only solutions the government and the union seem to have is to one, plead with employers not to retrench workers and two, to continue the “reskilling, upskilling and multi-skilling” of workers. (Source)

The Singaporean worker, thus, is at the complete mercy of his employer. Anecdotal evidence points to discriminatory practices such as age, language and even gender discrimination by employers, together with employers’ preference for hiring foreigners even for jobs which Singaporeans can do.

The government’s response, which seems to miss the point, is to insist that Singapore needs foreigners. Singaporeans understand that the country needs foreigners. Their concern is whether we are opening the door too wide to foreigners of every ilk, even for jobs which Singaporeans can perform in. The government, however, seem to not want to address this.

The Prime Minister, in his May Day message, was reported to have said:

“In hard times Singaporeans think the non-Singaporeans are taking their jobs away from them,” said Mr Lee. However, he said this is a mistaken view because without non-Singaporeans working alongside Singaporeans, the jobs may not be there in the first place, citing the integrated resorts as an example. (Source)

Be that as it may, the Singaporean worker needs more protection from the government. It is unthinkable that while foreigners are let in by the hundreds of thousands, Singaporeans are left to their own devices – with the unions taking the sides of the employers and doing nothing to speak up for or fight for the rights of Singaporeans. Witness the feeble response of the Labour Chief to the retrenchment by DBS of 900 workers in November 2008. (Source)

It is with this in mind – protecting the Singaporean worker – that the event in Hong Lim Park this Saturday was conceptualized by five Singaporeans, including this writer.

Please come support the event and show support for the Singaporean worker.

It is time that we demanded the government do more for the Singaporean who’ve worked hard and slogged for long hours all these years.

Perhaps the Labour and the Manpower chiefs should start thinking about “unleashing the unique Singapore advantage” to protect our workers instead of engaging in meaningless rhetoric and semantics.


Read also Ravi Philemon’s blog entry, “A webchat with Mr Gan Kim Yong and Amy Khor“. Ravi will also be one of the speakers at Hong Lim Park this Saturday (9 May at 5pm).


Support the Singaporean worker!

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