Nine years ago at the National Day Rally in Aug 2011, PM Lee told everyone that his government will put Singaporeans first. His speech came 3 months after the 2011 General Election (GE) when his party, the PAP, garnered the lowest percentage of vote share in the history of Singapore with 60.1%.
Many Singaporeans were unhappy with the over liberal policy of the PAP government allowing too many foreigners working here, competing for jobs with Singaporeans.
“I think Singaporeans understand the logic of the (foreign worker and immigrant) policy but the emotional impact, they still feel that and that still causes worry and concern. So I empathise with this and we are acting to relieve the pressures and to make clear that we are putting Singaporeans first,” he said at the rally.
“We have tightened up on foreigners progressively. We have tightened up the foreign workers levy, we have tightened up on the dependency ratios. The ‘S’ pass we have pushed from $1,800 to $2,000, that is of some help to the poly diploma holders and people who are at that level and therefore we have protected Singaporean workers, especially at the lower end.”
He added that to help SMEs cope with the impact, his government gave grants, tax deductions, all sorts of schemes to help them upgrade their productivity so as to make them less reliant on foreign workers.
He also assured that Employment Pass (EP) requirements would be tightened further. He told everyone, “We need to raise the salary requirement for the employment pass holders, tighten up the educational qualifications, make sure they come with real skills valuable to us and this is something MOM has worked on and will announce details soon.”
“Yes we will moderate and manage the foreign workers but we have to bring in enough so that we have the manpower and the talent to grow and to prosper. This is what we must do when it comes to putting Singaporeans first, stay open but moderate our policies,” he said.
Problems continue to persist 9 years later
In Parliament yesterday (2 Sep), PM Lee still tells Singaporeans that his government will always be on their side. His speech also came after the recent GE this year with the PAP garnered a disappointing 61.2% share of valid votes.
He acknowledged the anxiety that Singaporeans are feeling about their jobs and the “palpable” sense of competition with foreigners.
However, he assured, “The government will always be on the side of Singaporeans. What is the point of creating jobs for foreigners, if it doesn’t benefit Singaporeans? Why would we want to do that? Ultimately, our aim is to grow our economy, create good jobs for Singaporeans and raise our standards of living.”
His government has recently made several adjustments to its foreign workforce policy. Last Thursday (27 Aug), Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced another round of stricter work pass requirements for foreign PMETs working in Singapore.
Under the new rules, minimum qualifying salaries for EP and S Pass holders will be raised from $3,900 to $4,500 and from $2,400 to $2,500 respectively. For foreign PMETs in the financial sector, it will be raised to $5,000. It was the second time the minimum qualifying salaries for foreign work pass holders were raised this year.
Given how the purpose of the EP scheme is to “top us up at the higher end of these PMET jobs”, there is a need to tighten the qualifying criteria for this set of work passes now, said PM Lee. “We have to pay attention to market conditions and adjust at the right pace, but this is the correct long-term direction,” he said.
Still, many Singaporeans especially those retrenched PMETs now being forced to drive Grab and do Grab deliveries, may not be convinced that his government has helped to create good jobs for them and raise their standards of living in all these years.
High concentration of PMETs from single nationalities found in companies
Earlier this month (5 Aug), the Manpower Ministry (MOM) has also announced that more firms were added to the watchlist of Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) for suspected discriminatory hiring practices (‘Netizens question MOM why now only realise for the high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities, as all the employment passes are issued and approved by MOM‘).
Some 30 firms in the financial and professional service sectors were implicated. They include banks and fund managers, management consulting firms as well as firms providing project management and engineering services.
MOM said all 30 have been found to have a “high concentration of PMETs from single nationalities”. In one financial institution, almost three-quarters of their PMETs are of the same nationality and in another bank, almost two-thirds of the PMETs are also of the same nationality, MOM revealed.
Meanwhile, MOM said it will further investigate another 240 firms which have been identified through data analytics for possible pre-selection of foreigners or not adhering to the spirit of the job advertising requirement under the FCF.
So, after 9 years of “tightening” of foreign work pass requirements and “helping” SMEs to wean off their dependence on foreign workers, PM Lee is still trying to convince Singaporeans that he puts them first and will always be on their side.