On 1 May 2017, the annual Labour Day event organised by Transitioning.org was braced with seven speakers. The theme for this year’s event was ‘Jobs for Singaporeans first’, with all the speeches revolving around the labour market and prioritising Singaporeans for jobs.
Putting Singaporeans first
In his speech, National Solidarity Party’s Secretary General, Mr Lim Tean, broached on the subject of the regular Singaporean’s competition with foreign labour, and the issue of Singapore’s non-existent policy of a minimum wage.
Quoting from Mr Tan Kin Lian, Mr Lim said, “We must not be the silent crowd. We are all here today because we recognise there is a problem in the economy”.
Echoing the complaints of Singaporeans, Mr Lim said that it is up to the citizens of Singapore to advocate for change and to call on the government to give Singaporeans the priority in jobs. In 2015, Mr Lim said, 98% of total employment went to foreign workers and only 700 jobs were jobs for the Singaporean worker. “When that Singaporean worker loses the job, what our ministers don’t see is the despair on the face of the Singaporean worker,” Mr Lim added.
In 2016, according to a release by MOM, it was reported that 99.7% of jobs created in 2015 went to foreigners. According to MOM, out of the 31,800 jobs created, only 100 or 0.3% were taken up by Singaporeans and PR with the rest by foreign workers and domestic workers. MOM attributed the poor growth in jobs to sluggish global economic conditions and slower growth of the Singapore economy and tightened supply of foreign manpower.
“Work Fair, ComCare, Job Fairs. [The govt] has all the fairs in the world, except to give Singaporean workers fair wage and a fair job. The Singaporean low income worker is forever tight to the apron strings of the government. He has no dignity, and cannot make it on his own.”
Comparing Singapore to Australia, Mr Lim described how Singapore is the only advanced country in the world where there are no government protection at all for Singaporean workers. “Less than two weeks ago, the Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said [that] when Australia tightens its 457 visa policies, it is Australians job first, foremost for Australians”.
Mr Lim also took reference from the recent report of three National Service defaulters being sentenced to jail. The Singapore government, Mr Lim said, wanted Singaporean men to be proud and loyal to its country. “Can that Singaporean worker not demand a certain loyalty from his government?” Mr Lim asked.
Three men had their jail sentences increased in a hearing from the High Court for defaulting their NS duties. Ang Lee Thye, who was given a 24 months jail term, had his jail term raised to 33 months for defaulting on enlistment for 23.5 years.
Brothers Sakthikanesh Chidambaram, 26, and Vandana Kumar Chidambaram, 24, had defaulted for more than five years and more than three years respectively.
The former sentence was three weeks’ imprisonment for Sakthikanesh and a fine of S$6,000 for Vandana last year, but due to an appeal by the prosecution last year, the High Court increased their sentences to 10 weeks jail term for Sakthikanesh and seven weeks jail term for Vandana. The S$6,000 fine will be refunded.
Quoting from Amy Khor, a Member of Parliament (MP) representing the single-member constituency of Hong Kah North, Mr Lim expressed his disagreement with her arguments for not putting Singaporeans first as it will not be beneficial to the economy in the long run.
In 2015, Ms Khor had said that it is “populist” to suggest that jobs be reserved for Singaporeans first.
Ms Khor was responding to a suggestion by the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) candidate whom she is contesting against, Ravi Philemon, who had called for better protection of jobs for Singaporeans, and for citizens to be given priority for all jobs.
Mr Ravi had said at the launch of his manifesto for the SMC that the government’s Fair Consideration framework was “not enough” to secure jobs for Singaporeans.
“I cannot think of a single advanced country in the world that has the policies or the non-policies which Singapore has,” Mr Lim said in response to the government’s inaction on not protecting Singaporeans first.
On minimum wage
Reiterating what Mr Tan Kin Lian said in his earlier speech, Mr Lim added that without a minimum wage, there cannot be a level playing field for Singapore’s low income workers.
New Zealand introduced the first minimum wage laws in the late 1800s, Mr Lim said, insisting that the arguments against minimum wage, whether in the 1900s or during the present day, is completely ‘hogwash’.
Before breaking down the income of Singapore’s senior state ministers, Mr Lim cited Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s implementation of a basic minimum wage of 25 cents in 1938 during the recession.
Mr Lim said in his speech that Mr Roosevelt’s response to his opponents is still apt today – Mr Roosevelt had said, “Don’t let those calamity howling executives with an income of $1,000 a day tell you that paying a wage of $11 a week will destroy American industry.”
After pointing out that a senior minister of state in Singapore earns $770,000 a year, while a mayor earns $660,000 a year, and a member of parliament earns $192,500 a year, meaning that they would be earning at least three thousand to four thousand a day, Mr Lim said,
“You don’t allow those ministers who earn at least three to four thousand dollars a day tell you that they cannot afford to pay Singaporeans at least one thousand two hundred to one thousand five hundred a month.”
Mr Lim added that 15% of our population has a household income of less than one thousand dollars, which is below the poverty line.
“At the end of the day, this is not Xenophobia, this is not populism, it comes back to a world which all of us can understand – it is called ‘community’. We are the Singapore community,” Mr Lim said before ending his speech.