The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has become the third target of Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) when on Saturday (14 December) a correction direction was issue for an article and two Facebook posts by the party relating to employment trends of professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) in the country.
The order was given under the direction of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) which said that the posts and article contained “a misleading graphic and false statements of fact”.
SDP is required to carry the correction notice at the top of both Facebook posts and the article on its website, which it has done. SDP has also followed the correction notice with a statement of its own saying that while it is complying with the order, the party will also be applying to cancel the correction direction.
The posts in question and subsequent corrections
On 2 December, SDP’s sponsored post on Facebook included a graphic depicting a decrease in local PMET employment. The post in question is no longer visible on SDP’s Facebook page. Nevertheless, on the government’s fact-correction site ‘Factually’, MOM explained that the graphic is false.
Using graphs from its own Comprehensive Labour Force Survey, MOM said that local PMETs employment has risen steadily from 54% in 2015 to 58% in 2019.
The 2 December post as well as another Facebook post on 30 November by SDP, also linked to a June article on the SDP website titled “SDP Population Policy: Hire S’poreans first, retrench S’poreans last”.
The correction by the government also noted that the assertions made by SDP in those posts and article that more and more Singaporean PMETs were being retrenched are also false.
MOM said that there have been no rising trend of local retrenchments since 2015, adding that the number of retrenched local PMETs declined from 6,460 in 2016 to 5,360 in 2018, the lowest it has been since 2014.
MOM also said that the number of local PMETs retrenched as a share of all local PMET employees has also declined, going from 8.6 in 2015 to 6.6 in 2018.
Once again, those numbers were accompanied by graphics from the MOM’s Labour Market Survey.
On the subject of foreign PMETs, MOM said “The number of Employment Pass (EP) holders has historically fluctuated depending on economic conditions. EP qualifying salaries are also regularly adjusted to safeguard employment of local PMETs.”
The statement continued, “As a result, local PMET employment has continued to grow while the number of EP holders in Singapore remained stable, ranging from 187,900 in 2015 to 185,800 in 2018. The latest figure as of Jun 2019 is 189,000.”
The correction by MOM went on to say that “SDP’s statements seek to mislead Singaporeans”.
It emphasised that: ”The Singapore economy is continuing to create jobs despite the economic headwinds. Local PMET employment has increased consistently. There is no rising trend of retrenchment, whether amongst PMETs or otherwise.”
It continued, “These false and misleading statements by the SDP have a singular objective – to stoke fear and anxiety among local PMETs. It is important to set the facts straight so that Singaporeans are not misled.”
SDP’s response to MOM and Minister Josephine Teo
A day after the correction order was issued and complied with, SDP followed up with a new Facebook post (15 December) addressed directly to Minister Josephine Teo. Written by SDP’s vice-chairman John Tan, the post presented explanations and clarifications to SDP’s original posts that MOM took issue with.
First, on the SDP article published on their website in June, Mr Tan explained that the statement which said: “The SDP’s proposal comes amidst a rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched” was made based on a Straits Times (ST) article titled “PMETs make up rising share of retrenched locals” published on 15 March 2019.
Quoting an excerpt from the ST article which talked about the rising number of retrenched local PMETs including a statement that it is the “highest figure in at least a decade” and how ST also included a figure labelled “PMETs make up growing share of locals laid off” with MOM stated as its source, Mr Tan asked MOM to take it up with ST instead.
He said, “As the said newspaper is a government-controlled newspaper, we have no reason to believe that it would publish fake news about the government. As such, the MOM should take the matter up with the ST. If the ST states that its information, or the interpretation of it, is incorrect, we would be happy to amend our statement correspondingly.”
The vice-chairman also pointed to a Yahoo! report on 3 October 2019 in which DBS senior economist Irvin Seah was quoted, saying: “PMETs continue to form a much larger share of retrenched workers compared to their proportion in the workforce.”
On the second point, Mr Tan talked about the infographic it posted on 30 November saying that “Local PMET unemployment has increased”. On this, it quoted a Business Insider article in June which said: “Retrenchment in Q1 2019 is up from the previous quarter, and most of those who were retrenched were professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), a report by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has revealed.”
He noted that other newspapers such as ST and Today have published similar reports. It went on to talk about the Yahoo! article again which stated: “number of PMETs who lost their jobs increased from 1,440 to 1,680, making them the bulk of those retrenched.”
Mr Tan also said that Mr Seah was quoted by Yahoo! as saying that the rate of PMETs re-entering the workforce after months of retrenchment was “persistently lower”.
The party clarified, “Our statement is based on publicly available information cited in the reports mentioned.”
Finally, talking about the infographic it posted on 2 December which was accompanied by a statement that “Local PMET employment has decreased”, Mr Tan referred to the clarifications made above. Additionally, he said that “the low re-entry numbers suggest that the absolute numbers of unemployed and under-employed PMETs would have increased.”
Finally, Mr Tan concluded the post on SDP’s Facebook by questioning MOM’s conclusions, saying: “Be that as it may, 2019 isn’t over, yet you say that local PMET employment has risen for the year. This raises questions about your conclusion.”