by Deborah Choo
“PAP has one good policy which (it has) said before -no Singaporean who wants to be educated will be denied the education. This is an excellent thing. I challenge PAP to come up with another policy – no Singaporean who wants to work will be denied a job,” said Dr Tan Khee Giap, one of the three panelists at the Young PAP forum on Saturday.
Titled, “Working to win in Singapore’s economy ahead”, the forum was attended by about 50 people. .
Dr Tan continued, “I know many of you don’t like foreign workers. But last year, 14.9 percent – without foreign workers, the construction sector, I think Singaporeans also don’t want to do. Waiters, waitresses, chambermaids – Singaporeans don’t want to be. But if you don’t have foreign workers like this year, then we cannot continue to have [GDP] growth. Look at last year, 112,000 jobs were created. Why are there still 50,000 Singaporeans who can’t find jobs? Some say skills mismatch, but some say because of overtime shift they don’t like, or because of the distance – all kinds of reasons, because of the social stigma. So now, this year I think the government will be able to bring in 150, 000 jobs, mainly in services. But if we can create 150, 000 jobs and our unemployment rate is still at 2.1 percent or 50, 000, then this is disgusting.”
Dr Tan is the co-director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute and the Associate Professor of Public Policy with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
The two other panelists were Mr Christopher De Souza, Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC; and Mr Desmond Choo from the National Trades Union Congress. (NTUC) Mr Choo has been rumoured to be one of the People’s Action Party’s new candidates in the upcoming General Election. He is currently also the second adviser to the Hougang grassroots organizations and is expected to contest the Single-member ward against the Workers’ Party’s MP, Mr Low Thia Khiang.
Dr Tan said that the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) should continue to refer jobs to Singaporeans, depending on their productivity and skills set. However, he also stressed the importance of workers’ attitudes. He called for the authorities to publish a quarterly report to note how many times the worker was referred a job, and monitor how many times the particular worker rejected it.
“I can tell you, if you do that the unemployment rate can be reduced to one percent,” he said. “This one percent are hardcore, voluntarily unemployed; either they’re so rich they don’t bother to work, (or they are) so crazy they don’t want to work, right? But at least we actively make sure that we can be very proud that we are the first first-world economy that makes sure all citizens have a job – we give them a job. If we do this I think PAP can sell their policy even better.”
Dr Tan said the 2011 Budget is not a General Elections Budget but rather a “Nanny State Budget”.
Statistics on the amount of annual special transfers of the non-election years such as 2008 and 2009 were about over $4 billion, he said, while those of the election years in 2001, 2006 and 2011 are around $3 billion, with the exception of 2001 registering $5.3 billion.
Dr Tan also said that while the government has to make sure that the funds are given to people in need, the handouts must not be deposited directly into their pockets so as to ensure that they do not spend it needlessly.
Criticizing minimum wage as impractical and “not pro-market”, Mr Tan said the Workfare Income Supplement scheme (WIS) is good enough, although he cautioned that the principle of the policy must be examined.
During the Question and Answer session, most of the questions were directed at the foreign workers policy, the employment of Singaporeans versus that of foreign workers, and the implementation of minimum wage.
Replying to a question regarding the foreign workers’ levy, Mr De Souza emphasized that the money is rechanneled to the government’s training programs such as E2i (Employment and Employability Institute) and SPUR. (Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience).
A member of the audience questioned the help the Budget is providing for couples with children. Mr De Souza replied that through the Budget, children up to six years old who are living in one to five room flats, including executive HDB flats, are entitled to receive $400 each while those living in private property are entitled to get $300 per child. “The PAP government does not bar anyone for want of money,” he said.
Mr Choo said the issue is whether we are investing enough per child, i.e. quality time and so on.
Another audience member, Mr Chua Soon Tong, asked the panel for the definition of “foreign talent”. His own observations, he said, is that the jobs available for Singaporeans are mainly low- skilled, low paying jobs such as security guards, cleaners and production workers. “As a result there’s a joke saying that for Singaporeans your career path is this: under 35-years old, you work as an insurance agent, 35 onwards, upgrade to taxi drivers. This is because all the PMET positions have already been taken up by the foreigners,” said Mr Chua.
He asked if any government department or the NTUC are reviewing the foreign talent policy instead of merely advocating that Singapore needs foreign talents.
Mr Choo said that there is a limited amount the government can do, as they cannot bar the companies from outsourcing their factories. Singaporeans should focus instead on how to “future- proof” themselves. He stressed the importance of continual skills upgrading and the government’s Continuing Education and Training (CET) program.
“We try to revisit (the question): is it truly for the benefit of Singapore?,” said Mr De Souza about the foreign talent policy. “I can tell you, hand on heart, if it wasn’t, PAP will not do it.”.
Read also “YPAP Budget Forum: Not much sense“