The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has exposed one of the biggest “structural problems” of Singapore’s economy at present — namely the “over-dependence” on foreign labour, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan.
In a Facebook post on Fri (20 Mar), Dr Chee encouraged Singaporeans not to be “angry” at Malaysians who choose to work in Singapore but live in Johor Bahru, as the latter’s expenses “are much lower” in JB.
“A Big Mac across the causeway is RM10.40 or about S$3. It’s $5.75 here, nearly double in price.
“That’s why it’s so attractive for them to work in S’pore and live in M’sia. But let’s not get angry at them, they’re just finding the best opportunity to make a living, just like you and me,” he said.
Instead, said Dr Chee, it is more crucial for Singaporeans to see — in his words — that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is “exploiting this situation at the expense of S’poreans”.
Singapore’s over-reliance on foreign labour, according to Dr Chee, does not only affect citizens who are in need of blue-collar jobs such as “cleaners and security guards”, but also those in professions typically considered to be white-collar such as medicine, engineering and IT.
“But when we start asking questions, LHL [Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong] tells us that “someone is always trying to steal your lunch”. That scares everybody, and we go back to keeping our heads down and continuing to work for suppressed wages lest we lose our jobs to cheaper foreigners,” said Dr Chee.
An alternative to the predicament faced by Singapore’s current manpower landscape, he suggested, is a minimum wage for all professions not only for Singaporeans, but also for foreign workers in the Republic.
“This prevents employers from hiring based solely on lower wages … Raising wages increases purchasing power of S’poreans and this is good for business,” Dr Chee posited.
“When S’poreans are happy and secure, we are also more productive. Productivity increase means firms can invest in new technology and move up the innovation chain.
“Again, the Scandinavian economies are good examples – innovative, motivated and productive workers,” he illustrated.
Dr Chee stressed that foreign workers in Singapore should “complement” the local workforce instead of being a threat to the livelihood of citizens.
“The present arrangement is a race to the bottom where we keep competing with our neighbours to see which companies can make the most money by paying workers as little as possible.
“This is not a good model for S’pore and our workers are the ones paying the price,” Dr Chee cautioned.