It is easy to promise “good jobs” in a vacuum without any benchmark

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has said that local job seekers can still snag good quality jobs in sectors such as air transport even though others may have been hit by the current economic slowdown.

She further states that “there are currently about 60,000 vacancies waiting to be filled, with about half of them for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians)”. Some have pointed out that job vacancies do not equate to jobs for locals as companies could still prefer cheaper foreigners aka foreign talents (FT).

Indeed, Jardine Engineering Singapore from the Jardine Matheson Group has put up a job advertisement on the Indeed job site earlier this month, saying that they would be going to Kuala Lumpur to conduct walk-in interviews for their company.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the FT issue. This isn’t an issue unique to Singapore nor is it surprising that a corporate entity whose sole aim is to make profits would try and reduce its labour costs. If we want companies to hire local talent despite the higher salary base for locals, the government will have to do more to incentivize the hiring of locals. Tax rebates for hiring locals could be one way but this is the subject of another article altogether.

What I would like to focus on however is just what Teo means by “good quality jobs.” Just because there is a job available does not necessarily mean that it is a career-building position. How exactly is Teo defining “good quality”? Is it just a short term job to fill a gap with no long term potential for development?

Given that Singapore does not have an official minimum wage, how do we quantify what constitutes “good quality”? What is the benchmark?

Without minimum wage legislation in place, what is Teo comparing these alleged jobs with? Without an objective benchmark such as a specified living wage, any comparison she makes will be made in a vacuum and subjective. “Good” is, after all, a word that can cover all manner of situations. Without an objective benchmark, the word is meaningless.

For a developed country, Singapore’s labour laws are backward to say the least. It is an expensive country with no state sponsored healthcare. Why then is there no minimum wage legislation to ensure that its people can actually live a meaningfully comfortable life?

It is easy to promise “good jobs” in a vacuum without any benchmark.

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