~by: Terry Xu~
Looking at the just recent parliament extract on what have been said by the ministry of manpower (see MOM’s addendum to the President’s address HERE), the points might just be summarized into a general statement:
The government would look after the best interests of Singaporeans as regards job opportunities while trying to balance the need for more foreign talents coming into the local worker pool so as to promote the growth of Singapore’s economy.
Apart from the reviews on the health and safety aspect for foreign workers, the main points raised in this MOM addressees most of the hot button issues which get Singaporeans talking. Many of these hot button issues (especially those about foreign workers) were addressed during the rallies and campaign messages of the Opposition parties in the 2011 general elections 2011. And after the lowest percentage win by the People’s Action Party, the newly elected government is seemingly trying hard to look into the points highlighted and seeking to prevent the current situation from further worsening.
While it is good that the government is aware of the ground sentiment, we have to monitor what it does. It isn’t simply a question of issuing new directives or regulations.
Let me illustrate what I mean.
One of the government’s aims is to have a foreign workforce that is only one third of the total workforce in Singapore. This might just be another play on numbers and words if the immigration agency decides to open the floodgates again to aspiring citizens and permanent residents, like what it did just prior to the Singapore General elections 2011.
Foreign workers would just be assimilated into the PR figures and the ratio of foreign workers being only one third of the work force can be then easily met and maintained.
To prevent this, there has to be transparency on what is the rate of conversion of foreigners to PR. Knowing the conversion rate will enable Singaporeans to ascertain if the government is keeping its promises of checking immigration and ensuring that local Singaporeans do not lose out on potential jobs to foreign “talents”.
On fostering inclusive growth, two issues are the ageing workforce and how workers can communicate their grievances?
On the point of an ageing workforce, the ministry stated ; “Singaporeans are enjoying better health. Most desire to stay active and work longer if they can. With longer life expectancy too, the prospect of outliving one’s savings is a worry. We are addressing both these challenges.”
One would expect the age of retirement to be further increased, as with the age of withdrawal of the CPF funds. I personally feel that this should not be the way to address the “issue” of outliving one’s savings. I think that most outlive their savings, not by over spending but because of the rising cost of common necessities, and the growing living standards in Singapore. Then there the increase in property prices. The younger generation face the prospect of facing a ever-growing loan repayment periods. This “eats” into their savings.
Making promises to ensure the Tripartite system of employers, workers and the government relevant in Singapore is important for the improvement of the labour force. With this in mind, a question one should ask would be what power does a worker or his union have to bargain for a fairer working environment or terms? If workers have no means of communicating or bargaining with their employers, the highlighted issues faced by the labour force would slowly worsen.
From the above, there is much for the Ministry of Manpower to do meet its intended goals and it remains to be seen whether if it can keep its promise to put Singaporeans first.