By Andrew Loh
The current debate over jobs – who should these go to – stems from some murky and dubious claims by different sides. Let’s take a look at two simple issues – how many jobs have gone to Singaporeans and foreigners; and what kinds of jobs these are.
Ten years ago, in 2003, three economists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), released a report which said that “three out of four new jobs in Singapore were taken up by foreigners in the last five years.” (See here.)
The three were former National Wages Council chairman, Professor Lim Chong Yah, Dr Tan Khee Giap and Dr Chen Kang.
“Out of four jobs created, only one job went to a Singapore resident, three jobs went to the intake of foreign workers,” Professor Lim the NTU’s Nanyang Business School said then.
The NTU report drew a sharp response from the then Acting Minister for Manpower, Ng Eng Hen, who said that the academics were “way off the mark”.
“If your figures are wrong, it is irresponsible, unprofessional to put out those figures. In this particular case, the NTU report, their findings are way off the mark. I do not know how they got their figures and what their methods are,” said Dr Ng.
He described the claims by the NTU economists “sensationalistic”.
Dr Ng said that in fact “nine in 10 new jobs” had gone to Singaporeans and residents, and “only one went to a foreigner.”
Five years later, in 2008, the view that the majority of jobs created went to foreigners was again in the spotlight – confirmed, in fact, by the Manpower Ministry itself.
The Straits Times initially reported it thus:
But for some reason, the Straits Times changed that report – both the headlines and its content – to this:
“S’pore adds record number of jobs in 2007, a third filled by foreigners”.
How did “6 in 10 new jobs go to foreigners” become “a third filled by foreigners”?
It prompted blogger Mr Brown to quip then: “I still don’t know how 6-in-10 equals one third though. But I dropped C Maths at A Levels, so I missed out on the Singapore Mainstream Media Math module.”[Read the two different Straits Times reports here: "6 in 10 new jobs go to foreigners OR a third filled by foreigners?”]
But more seriously, the spin on data and statistics adds to the frustration felt by Singaporeans throughout the years. Indeed, numerous stories of Singaporeans facing job discrimination at the workplace or in looking for work had started to emerge then. These were especially from those in the so-called PMETs group – the professionals, managers, executives, technicians.
However, instead of being aware and taking the complaints seriously, government ministers and Members of Parliament from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) ridiculed Singaporeans and dismissed their cries as from a “mollycoddled” lot and such like.
The spin from the Government and its mouthpiece continued.
And in 2008, even as its own studies show that 6 in 10 jobs were going to foreigners, the Prime Minister insisted that “foreigners do not take jobs away from locals.” He added that foreigners “are not here to steal our jobs, but to help us enlarge the economic pie.”
It was a line which he repeated in 2011, this time saying that not only do foreigners not take away jobs from S’poreans but that in fact foreigners “help create good jobs for S’poreans”.
But again five years later, he was to say something which seemingly contradicted this.
From foreigners “are not here to steal our jobs” to “they are… about to steal your lunch”, it is quite a leap in a short period of time.
But even if we grant that most jobs indeed go to Singaporeans, the deeper and more important question is: are these “good” jobs, as the Prime Minister claimed?
This is where, once again, researchers seemed to have called the Government’s bluff.
The results of a study on this by the National University of Singapore’s Social Work Department, released in September 2013, showed that in fact “85 per cent” of those surveyed “said these jobs are not paying enough for them to support a family.”
“Among the reasons is the fact that about 90 per cent of the one million jobs created in the last decade are from the services sector, which observers say are lowly paid to begin with,” Channel Newsasia reported.
That in itself is a damning indictment of the apparent failure of the Government in its labour policy, and it is worth repeating:
“Among the reasons is the fact that about 90 per cent of the one million jobs created in the last decade are from the services sector, which observers say are lowly paid to begin with.”
It is a situation which many Singaporeans have experienced and known about for several years now. The NUS study is only an empirical or academic confirmation of this.
And this is where the issue of anger and frustration comes in.
Singaporeans’ cries fell on deaf ears until the situation was so bad the Government risked a political backlash if it did not heed the unhappiness. And so it acted – sheepishly, unfortunately.
Its promise to curb the foreigner numbers still saw our overall population increasing to 5.4 million the past one year, with foreigners making up a substantial 40 per cent of the equation.
And then there is its latest attempt at appeasement – the “Fair Consideration Framework”. This in fact is the clearest confirmation yet that the problem of discrimination against Singaporeans at the workplace is wide-spread and perhaps even entrenched.
Indeed, the examples of such discriminatory practices by businesses and companies have been and are continually being highlighted by social media and blog sites.
The current Acting Manpower Minister has called on Singaporeans not to “stoke hate and ill will”, while some others have criticised such complaints and complainants for going overboard and exhibiting xenophobic behaviour.
But to point the finger at these and label these only allow the Government to get away with its propaganda of spinning information to its whims and fancies.
While of course we do not condone hate speech against anyone, whether local or foreigner, we must also not condone the spin that is being put out by the Government and its mouthpieces.
We must realise that it is important to call the Government out on this each time it happens so that the voices of Singaporeans are not whitewashed away with euphemisms, half-truths, and semantics.
For example, when the government says: “We are creating so many jobs that we are worried that we do not have enough workers to go and fill them”, we need to ask, “What kinds of jobs are these?”
It is in asking these questions that we may get some answers.
Otherwise, we will be no wiser and mistake lame frameworks for epochal changes.
In 2003, the then Acting Manpower Minister, Ng Eng Hen, disputed NTU economists’ findings that “three out of four new jobs in Singapore were taken up by foreigners”, a finding which was later confirmed by the Manpower Ministry itself in 2008.
10 years later, in 2013, the current Acting Manpower Minister, Tan Chuan Jin, comes up with a “Fair Consideration Framework” to make sure S’poreans are “fairly considered” for jobs.
It is not even to make sure that Singaporeans get the jobs they are qualified for – but only for them to be “considered fairly” for these jobs.
10 years – and a lame framework is all we can come up with to protect Singaporeans in the workplace, and 90 per cent of jobs created are in only one sector (the services sector) and these do not even pay enough for S’poreans to make ends meet.
Can we really blame Singaporeans for being angry?
Time to ask PM Lee this: Where are the “good” jobs, Prime Minister?
And while we are at it, it is time also for the Government mouthpiece, the Straits Times, to stop putting out stupid headlines like this which disparage Singaporean workers.