Speaking at the People’s Action Party (PAP) biennial conference yesterday (8 Nov), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged the worry Singaporeans have about job competition coming from “foreign talents”.
He said he fully understood the pressures faced by Singaporeans with regard to foreign work pass holders competing against Singaporeans for jobs in Singapore.
Singaporean workers must feel reassured that the Government will help them hold their own against foreign competition, and that they are fairly treated, PM Lee said. Failing to do so will lead to a lot of “angst and social tension”.
But the Government must also convince Singaporeans that the best way to protect livelihoods and families is to keep Singapore open for talent and business, he added.
He cautioned, “If we just close ourselves up and send away the work pass holders, it will result in fewer jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans, and more hardship for our workers and their families.”
Singaporean PMETs driving Grab
Meanwhile, even without sending away the foreign work pass holders, Singaporean PMETs (Professional, Managers, Executives and Technicians) are presently struggling to find jobs.
In a media interview in Feb this year, Jeff (not his real name) who is 49 revealed that he became unemployed last year after he was retrenched from a multinational company. While looking for a new job, he sent out over 500 job applications to numerous companies but only managed to obtain 1 response (Retrenched SG gets only 1 response from 500 job applications; Heng says to “upskill”).
And this was even after he began applying for jobs that offered about $2,000 a month, which is about one third of his $5,900 monthly pay he got while working for the multinational company.
“I have worked for 26 years and so far I’ve only joined three companies. I’m not a job hopper, I’m not the kind to leave for higher pay… It’s very simple, I just need a job to move on with my life,” said Jeff, who needs to get a job because he has a wife, two children and his parents to support at home.
Another PMET interviewed was Alan Lim, 52, who was retrenched by StarHub two years ago. In fact, Alan had been with Starhub for 2 decades and last held the position of senior account manager, drawing $10,000 a month.
He then went for a handful of interviews but continued to be rejected by companies, even though he was asking for only $4,000 a month, a 60 per cent cut from his pay at StarHub.
Faced with multiple rejections, Alan ended up driving Grab instead. He said, “I didn’t want to waste too much of my time. I felt that it was better for me to focus on driving Grab because that’s the only way for (older workers) like us (to earn a living) and that is the only job that is suitable.”
Alan now drives Grab up to 10 hours a day.
Govt thinks retrenched Singaporeans don’t have relevant skills
But the government thinks the reason these middle age Singaporeans couldn’t get a job is due to the fact that they do not have the relevant skills in today’s “knowledge-based economy”.
Earlier this year in Parliament, DPM Heng Swee Keat said, “Born in the 1960s or 1970s, they grew up in a time when our economy was just starting to take off. When they started work, it was normal, even celebrated, to stay with one job, in one company, for life.”
And added, “Some workers in their 40s and 50s have not seen any job or career changes since leaving school, or had the chance to upskill earlier. But they are now facing greater competition, from younger workers and workers overseas. I understand their anxiety.”
To help these workers, Heng announced a “SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package”. It remains to be seen how effective the government’s “SkillsFuture” programmes would be in helping retrenched Singaporean PMETs to get jobs.
But not all retrenchments were caused by Singaporeans lacking of skill sets. In Mar this year, a 40-year-old Singaporean was let go from an international finance firm due to her foreign boss intending to replace her with another foreign expat (‘Woman retrenched in favour of foreign talent, MOM says it can’t help‘).
In an effort to cut costs, the company had combined two roles and chose to replace her with a “foreign talent” who was brought over from another branch in the region – essentially an intra-company transferree.
When the Singaporean asked her boss why she was not retained, he told her that he had evaluated both their performances and felt the “foreign talent” was a “better fit” for the company.
She said, “This is not a skill set issue. I agree that some local workers may need to do some re-skilling but that is not the case for me. It’s only fair that you look at my credentials, I have a Master’s in Accountancy.”
She later filed a complaint against the company to Manpower Ministry (MOM). It’s not known if MOM has issued an Employment Pass (EP) for the foreigner taking over her place.
In any case, it would be hard for this Singaporean to believe PM Lee that sending away the foreign work pass holders will “result in fewer jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans”.