Subscriber updates 24 August to 31 August

In a Parliamentary session yesterday, Dennis Tan from the Workers’ Party (WP) and Murali Pillai of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) crossing swords. While Tan questioned the PAP’s placement of flags and posted over the election campaign period, Murali chose to see his question as a veiled attack. Instead of answering the question as he perhaps should have done, Murali reacted defensively and accused Tan of suggesting that the PAP was instead using its “power of incumbency” against oppositions in an unfair manner. Will this seemingly overly defensive and over the top reaction of the PAP set the tone for future Parliamentary exchanges?

As questions continue to abound over labour concerns and the number of foreign PMETS in Singapore, Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo has dug her heels in and refused to impose quotas for Employment Pass (EP) holders despite saying that there needs to be stricter requirements for foreign PMETs entering Singapore.  Her rationale being that a quota for EPs would be going overboard and she implied that quotas could impede businesses from recovering and could introduce major shocks to the current system.

This appears to be in direct contrast to NTUC’s Ng Chee Meng’s position who conceded that Singapore has perhaps reached a tipping point where some degree of “market failure” has occurred, causing middle-aged local PMETs to become more vulnerable. Ng (who lost out to the Workers’ Party in Sengkang) is the current Secretary-General of NTUC and has pledged  that it will step up to protect local PMETs, as part of  its “ongoing efforts to strengthen the Singaporean Core and ensure the local workforce remains employable and relevant”.

He further added that it will set up a taskforce to “better understand PMEs’ needs” and to get “more PMEs to join NTUC as a collective voice”. Given that the NTUC has at times been perceived to be pro employer than worker, this is a bold move on Ng’s part and a strong signal that NTUC will step up.

Will we see NTUC taking on the Ministry of Manpower in a stronger show of force? 

The Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India continues to be a focal point in Singapore with Netizens questioning its benefits and various government ministers defending its benefits. Yet these appear to be at cross purposes in the absence of specific data pinpointing the direct benefits CECA has brought to the man on the street. Without a clear comparison of data, it is impossible for citizens to take the Ministries’ words seriously when their real life experience speaks of a different story of being displaced via transfers or other job seekers on passes granted via CECA. So why is the Government so cagey on the data?

Beyond CECA, there are still concerns over the number of PMETs in Singapore and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has attempted to justify this by stating that Singapore is facing a shortage of manpower in the technology and risk management areas. However, Heng’s explanations have not answered why other sectors have appeared to employ foreign PMETs over local ones with comparable skill sets?

While MOM has confirmed that the number of foreign PMETs has dropped by 14700 in the first six months of this year, the unemployment rate for Singaporeans has risen considerably during the same period of this year and stands at 79,600 Singaporeans unemployed.

Cost of living woes have been heightened as the Land Transport Authority announced an increment in Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) rates for three gantries, following the completion of its third review of ERP rates. Starting 31 August, the gantry along Southbound Central Expressway (CTE) Auxiliary Lane to the Pan-Island Expressway (Changi) and Serangoon Road, as well as two other gantries along Northbound CTE after Pan-Island Expressway, in an effort to manage congestion during peak periods. Netizens have questioned the need for these increments now when people are increasingly feeling the economic squeeze.

Community

After a previous postponement of the trial, it has been confirmed that the defamation suit filed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against veteran blogger and financial advisor Leong Sze Hian will finally be heard by the High Court in October

While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased focus on how migrant workers in the construction sector in Singapore are treated, there have also been calls to evaluate the mental toll foreign domestic workers (FDW) endure over the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, there have been reports on how a domestic worker from Myanmar had attempted to take her own life as a result of flight cancellations due to COVID-19.

The Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) has urged the employers to be “more understanding towards their FDWs”, and “communicate with them to find out how they are coping with work, as well as discuss any concerns together” and noted some of the stresses faced by FDWs such as losing jobs in Singapore and their family members amid COVID-19 pandemic back in their home countries.

Overseas

The race to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has informally kicked off with several contenders announcing their plans to stand, a day after Japan’s longest-serving leader announced his resignation amid growing health concerns.

India sets a new world record of 79,000 COVID-19 cases per day amid growing concerns that 66% of imported cases to Singapore are from India.

China continues to clamp down on activists in Hong Kong. According to reports, a dozen people have been arrested by Chinese authorities as they fled Hong Kong via speedboat.

China has launched another probe into Australian wine imports, accusing Canberra of using subsidies to give firms “an edge” over local rivals, in the latest salvo as trade and diplomatic relations between the two deteriorate.

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