During the first televised debate of General Election (GE) 2020 on 1 July, The People’s Action Party (PAP) candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Vivian Balakrishnan stood his grounds on the issue of jobs and challenged Progress Singapore Party’s Francis Yuen by asking him, “What else do you want us to do?” [reference to preserve PMETs’ jobs].
Mr Balakrishnan stated that 60,000 foreigners have lost jobs. The next day, appearing like a knight in shining armour to his rescue, the Ministry of Manpower stated categorically that PSP’s Francis Yuen number of 100,000 Singaporeans unemployed is wrong, it is only 39,000 for the month of June 2019. A day later, on 3 July, PAP’s Josephine Teo who had helmed the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) jumped on the bandwagon in a concerted effort and emphasised that foreigners lost 60 000 jobs.
In short, PAP implied, Singaporeans are not doing too badly compared to them.
First, the unemployment rate does not tell us the true picture. Even though Singapore is consistent with international standards in calculating unemployment rate, it is not the barometer of Singaporeans’ wellbeing.
The unemployment rate does not include those who have not been working for a while and not looking for jobs. Those are the Singaporeans we know who have applied for job after job, but consistently failed to secure any. They have thus given up looking for one and are living off relatives and charity.
Secondly, the unemployment rate does not include those who are underemployed. Those are the Singaporeans we know, who do Grab deliveries, taxi driving and other gig economy jobs. Singapore is not a social welfare state, we will grab any menial job that comes by. It may not be a quality job that befits our qualifications. All of us knows friends and relatives who are in this unfortunate position.
Where do you think the 210,000 gig economy freelance workers come from?
And the more we stay in non-permanent jobs, the harder it becomes to look for a more permanent job with better job security and income.
Lastly, as Leong Sze Hian, Peoples Voice candidate for Jalan Besar GRC, pointed out in TOC’s live interview last week, the unemployment figures are meaningless when the ministry lumps Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) together. Given that Singapore brings in about 30,000 PRs and 20,000 new citizens each year under the Population White Paper, the denominator used to calculate the unemployment rate will always increase and arguably gives a much rosy image than reality presents.
A 2017 study by the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute found an underemployment rate of 4.3%, higher than MOM’s time-based under-employment rate of 3.3% as at June 2018.
Not to mention many unemployed are either upskilling themselves or have been taken out of the unemployment figures after being out of job over six months and given up hope looking for one.
Mr Balakrishnan, the following are what the PAP government could have done but did not do for us:
1) Setting strict guidelines on hiring positions
Most responsible governments will have a quota or indispensable policies that expects foreigners to prove that a citizen cannot do the job. Policies such as a priority system for locals.
Take the European Union (EU) as an example, the EU expects EU citizens to be hired first before someone outside of the EU. The current policy only imposes set quotas for citizens/foreigner ratio in the Work Permit and S-Pass category. For the Employment Pass category where the most Singaporeans are seeking and employed at, there is no quota.
2) A system that is hard to be gamed
PAP’s enhanced “Fair Hiring” framework is cosmetic treatment asking recruiters to “make reasonable efforts” to attract Singaporeans. Recruiters and Employers can easily put out advertisements and tell MOM, no Singaporeans applied, or Singaporeans are not qualified.
These have been well documented in stories of how companies game the system in place, such as putting up the job advertisement on Jobs Bank for 14 days just for compliance sake before hiring a foreign worker.
It was only in January this year after many years since the introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework , that the first company in Singapore was charged by MOM for making false declaration.
3) A level playing ground
Leong also revealed during his interview with TOC that the reason why employers prefer to hire migrant workers is not due to low wage but turn over of workers.
He pointed out that migrant workers take heavy loan to pay for introduction fees to come to Singapore and effectively take on a two-year contract with the employer. Unless the employer sends the worker back, the worker will have to take up any abuse or exploitation within this two year span. In the case of a local, the worker can choose to leave one or two months if he or she feels unsatisfied with the job.
Finding a job in such a hiring market, makes the competition hard for locals, no matter how much skills they upgrade themselves with.
As the SG Conversation back in 2012, identified what Singaporeans would like to see – “A Singapore for Singaporeans”. Looking at the above, what have PAP done for us?
PAP, don’t bluff !
Correction: The figure by MOM against Yuen’s figure is corrected from June 2020 to June 2019 to reflect the actual date of the figures.