By Chua Suntong

PMET (Professionals, Managers, Executives & Technicians) job displacement has no specific statistics as it does not exist in the world of the ruling PAP (People’s Action Party) Government. However, it is felt significantly.

At the Prime Minister National Day Rally Speech on 24 August 1997, the future Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong announced a change in population policy from immigration-supplemented to immigration-centric.

This policy was to bring in foreigners with some relevant background to take up PMET positions at all functions, levels & sectors. He described these foreign PMETs as foreign talents (FTs).

At a Parliamentary Query on19 Feb 1998, PAP Member for Nee Soon Central Mr Ong Ah Heng asked if foreign talents were hired simply because they were cheaper. (Parliamentary Debates Official Report Call Number RSING 328.5957 SIN Volume 68, 14 Jan 1998 to 12 March 1998, Columns 185). In later years, PAP critics who were unaware of this query would agree with Mr Ong. 

In Sep 1998, the current foreign PMET workpass system was implemented. Below were the minimum monthly salary categories.  

Type

1998

2001

2004

2011

2012

P1

$7000

$7000

$7000

$8000

$8000

P2

$3500

$3500

$3500

$4000

$4500

Q

$2000

$2500

$2500

$2800

$3000

S (2004 onwards)

(None)

(None)

$1800

$2000

$2000

The focus was on hiring young foreigners in the same age range & starting pay as local fresh graduates. Critics argued this led to local PMET wage depression. Local PMETs also had indirect cost disadvantages such as National Service reservist training & maternity leave.

Local PMETs were also rejected when they were deemed overqualified. PMET employment became a foreigner-1st situation.

After the mass foreign PMET influx started, some older PMETs lamented the loss of an earlier cordial working environment. This influx created a negative workplace atmosphere.

Hiring immigrant cheaper PMETs was easier to understand. However, since immigrant PMETs might not be cheaper & there was no consensus that they were better, why were large numbers of immigrants hired for middle & high-paying conventional PMET positions?

The only plausible reason was that PAP government’s earlier track record meant senior local PMETs trusted the PAP. They hired foreigners for PMET positions because they were encouraged to do so by the ESM.  

Their good career advancements meant that while they might be aware of workplace tensions, they believed the economy was generating good jobs for everyone.

The mainstream media tried to persuade existing locals to accept the newer immigrants by featuring some success stories. However, these features showed the circular reasoning behind the ESM FT policy. A reason for immigrant PMET success was that employing organizations gave them advancement & development opportunities. 

Local displaced PMETs could improve themselves but they would be fighting a losing battle as they were in no position to go against the PAP Government.

From 1997 to 2011, the PAP Government rejected any reduction in new PQS holders. The mainstream media portrayed the critics as isolationist xenophobes.

Singapore was not alone in bringing in immigrant PMETs. However, no country or region in history had

  • brought in such a huge number of potential long-term residents from diverse origins in such a short time &
  • expected full-scale social, economic & political integration into the mainstream within an even shorter time.

Integration of individual voluntary immigrants into their settled areas was always a long & gradual process.    

The ESM foreigner 1st policy also influenced the immigrant PMET mindset. Increased immigrant numbers led to more communal congregation & less localized integration. Hiring & promoting according to cultural background in the workplace became more common. From around 2002 onwards, a superior mindset towards locals started to develop.

Therefore what happened to the ESM claim that immigrant PMETs were supposed to enhance careers of existing locals?  

The answer was that the desire by the PAP Government to use immigration to fulfill several, sometimes contradictory objectives led to this value-added target being pushed aside. Immigration led to employee substitution, not employee enhancement.

Many immigrant PMETs brought in by the ESM Foreign Talent policy openly admitted they were only here to earn money for a time period. They cared little about the social situation until the 2011 General Election period.  

14 years of marginalization & frustrations led to radicalized critics demanding a reversal of the ESM ultra-liberal & ultra-promotional FT policy. 

Some immigrant PMETs responded by becoming more vocal in defending their positions. The superior mindset towards locals came out in the open when some of these PMETs claimed that the immigration PMET influx occurred because home-grown citizens lacked talent.

Promoting Singapore as a global hub by the ESM caused some immigrant PMETs to argue home-grown citizens had no job placement priority. These immigrants had forgotten that Singapore was officially a citizen-based sovereign nation.

Since the ESM FT policy needed local cooperation in order to function, the only viable explanation was that between 1997 & 2011, home-grown citizens & equivalents (earlier naturalized citizens) were very happy to promote the ESM FT policy in their workplaces until they themselves were adversely affected.

When previously immigrant- friendly senior local PMETs were themselves marginalized, they tried to highlight their problems but generally avoided mentioning personal involvement in the foreigner-1st policy.

Former senior local PMETs pointing out FT policy weaknesses after they had become taxi drivers was good for spreading awareness but had little practical value as their successors were still busy bringing in more immigrants for local PMET positions.

Rectifying the ESM FT policy defects depended on decision makers recognizing problems when they were still in charge & not after they had stepped down.

 

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