The debate between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Worker’s Party MP and Chief Pritam Singh about employment data has a new voice, with Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat chiming in on Wednesday (8 Jan) in a Facebook post to caution against “driving a wedge in society” by differentiating between PRs and citizens.

Mr Chee started off by saying that both Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad and Mr Chan have clearly explained to Worker’s Party MP Pritam Singh in parliament about how Singaporeans have benefitted from economic policies.

Laying out the numbers, Mr Chee said that between 2015 and 2018, the 23 Industry Transformation Map (ITM) sectors grew by 19,5000 (excluding foreign domestic workers). This comprised of an increase in employment of citizens by 39,300 and of permanent residents (PRs) by 8,600 as well as a decrease in employment of foreigners by 28,500.

Mr Chee also reiterated what Mr Chan had said about how the government having nothing to hide, adding that “most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality.”

He continued, “The data that MOS Zaqy provided in Parliament are comprehensive and clear. I am puzzled why Mr Singh failed to acknowledge these statistics in his Facebook post.”

Mr Chee is referring, of course, to Mr Singh’s post on Tuesday (7 Jan) where he explained that he had asked Mr Chan for clarification on employment data between 2015 and 2018 several times but received no clear answer in parliament the day before.

Mr Singh argued in his post that the government’s non-classification of citizens separate from PRs makes it difficult to consider issues that affect the Singaporeans workforce across industries and over time.

He said, “It also makes it difficult to track and consider policy options or alternatives to boost the employment and career progression prospects of Singaporeans – something every civic-minded citizen and most of us political moderates with a stake in Singapore should be concerned about.”

He also said that given Mr Chan’s confirmation that the government has nothing to hide, WP MPs will move forward to file questions to obtain the data that is currently unavailable, not present publicly or “not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans, in particular, are doing”.

Mr Chee then responded with his own Facebook post, saying, “As Minister Chan said in Parliament, this Government puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do. In growing our economy, we constantly balance multiple trade-offs, including the extent to which we bring in foreigners to complement our local workforce. What matters most are the outcomes for our workers.”

The results on that are “encouraging” said Mr Chee, as the country remains competitive on the global level at attracting investments, keeping unemployment low, and with wages of Singaporeans workers going up.

He also cautioned, “We have achieved these outcomes by staying united and working together. Let us not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy.”

Mr Chee the zeroed in on PRs specifically. He said, “The PRs in our workforce have made contributions to Singapore, both economically and socially, even though they receive lower subsidies and fewer benefits than citizens.”

“More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens, as Mr Singh would be aware since the Workers’ Party has joined PAP MPs in advocating for foreign spouses and children of Singapore citizens to be given priority for Singapore citizenship.”

He then warned that all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups in society should be rejected, calling for people to “stand resolute” against efforts to “stir fear and hatred for political gain”.

How it started?

This entire conversation started when Mr Singh tabled a parliamentary question on the number of jobs created in each of the ITM sectors, broken down into citizen, PR, and foreigners but didn’t receive a clear answer.

In reply to Mr Sing’s question, Mr Chan told the House that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018. However, he gave no breakdown in terms of the groups Mr Singh asked for.

Following that, Mr Sing said, “My original parliamentary question really was a question seeking data. Minister for Trade and Industry spoke of the local PMET share going up (from) 54 per cent to 57 per cent. And my question really is can we expect in future — either by way of (response to) a parliamentary question or by the Government on its own accord — (to be given data broken down) into Singaporeans and PRs? If the Government’s approach is, ‘No we are not going to provide that data’, can the Minister please share that detail with us here. Because it’s pointless for us to keep asking for that data if the Government is not going to provide it.”

Mr Chan then replied, “I don’t think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data.”

This prompted Mr Singh to ask specifically about the increase in employment between 2015 and 2018, about how many jobs went to Singaporeans and how many went to PRs. Again, Mr Chan did not give specifics but said that he can get the numbers.

He also said, “But let me say this: What is the point behind the question? First, has local unemployment increased with all these efforts?”

“The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Our people are getting good jobs. Are our wages going up? Yes, and it’s faster than many other countries. Those are proof points to show that we are doing right by Singaporeans. But I’m always very cautious about this constant divide — Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting.”

Chan continued, “I’ve just spent the last half an hour explaining and sharing with this House how we are working hard to make sure Singaporeans do so.”

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