PM Lee says technological advances a threat to accountants but avoids mentioning CECA with India

Speaking at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Argentina on Fri (30 Nov), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that with technological advances in the world, countries must ease workers’ anxieties by supporting displaced workers and equipping them with the right skills to take on new jobs.

“We should work on the basis that technological disruption will create new jobs, even as old jobs are taken away,” he said. He cited how in professions like accountancy and law, “tedious work has been computerised and automated”.

“But the headcount remains, perhaps with computer engineers and programmers augmenting the accountants and lawyers but with professionals who are focusing on tasks requiring human judgment and interaction,” he added.

It is therefore important to provide the workforce with the right education and skills to take up the new jobs, he said.

He also said that governments need to intervene before workers are displaced. One way to do this is to “work with businesses and unions to re-skill and redeploy at-risk employees”, something Singapore is trying to do.

“Workers have to adopt the mindset of lifelong learning because that way, we do not yield to our anxieties, but instead we work hard to make our own futures,” he added.

Quietly negotiating the opening of Singapore labour market to Indian accountants under CECA

While PM Lee appears to attribute displacement of workers like accountants and lawyers to “technological disruption” in the world, his government is also quietly negotiating with India under the “Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement” (CECA) to open up Singapore labour market to more PMETs from India.

Three months ago in Sep, India and Singapore started the 3rd review of the “landmark CECA”, which focuses on trade facilitation, e-commerce, customs as well as movement of professional workers (PMETs) between the 2 countries.

Minister Iswaran’s announcement of the 3rd review came after both countries concluded and signed the 2nd review of CECA earlier this year in May.

He mentioned Ascendas-Singbridge, a Govt-linked company, being one of the Singapore companies which has benefited from CECA.

However, at the conclusion of the 2nd review of CECA, the Indian media revealed that Singapore has proceeded to recognise nursing degrees from some of its education institutions. This was not mentioned by Singaporean media.

The Business Standard of India, for example, reported (‘India signs mutual recognition agreement in nursing with Singapore’, 1 Jun) that the conclusion of the 2nd CECA review makes it “easier for domestic (Indian) nurses to explore employment opportunities in Singapore now, as India has signed mutual recognition agreement (MRA) with the south east Asian nation in this sector”.

The Hindu reported (‘India, Singapore formalise mutual recognition agreement in nursing’, 1 Jun) that India has formalized a MRA in nursing with Singapore which would allow “nurses trained in seven nursing institutions across India to gain employment in the South-East Asian country (Singapore)”.

India continues to press Singapore to mutually “recognise” more Indian degrees of other professions so as to enable more of their PMETs to work in Singapore. The Hindu mentioned that architecture and accountancy have been brought up in CECA discussions earlier with the Singapore government.

Singapore may have little choice as hundreds of millions of dollars from Singapore GLCs have already been invested and stuck in India, as part of CECA.

As more Indian degrees of different professions are recognised by the Singapore government, one would expect to see more Indian PMETs, for example accountants, flooding Singapore’s job market.

Hence, other than “technological disruption”, it appears that the Singapore-India CECA is also a significant threat to our workers too.

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