They have done a fine job of confusing us about the jobs situation

They have done a fine job of confusing us about the jobs situation

by Augustine Low

All around us, there are hard-luck stories of Singaporeans who cannot make a decent living or live only for today fearing what tomorrow brings.

The elderly in their twilight years are still collecting cardboard and cleaning tables. People who get laid off find it tough to get back on their own two feet. A food delivery rider turns hawker – and still ends up throwing in the towel.

Every so often, we get incredible numbers and motherhood stuff flung at us – 180,000 people trained in tech skills! 100,000 jobs and training opportunities created! 3.5 million jobs for 2.5 million locals! More upskilling! More reskilling! Be future ready for the digital economy!

Sounds impressive! But what do they mean to the ones like the food delivery rider turned hawker and so many others like him?

Shortly before the last general election, Minister Heng Swee Keat promised: “The effort to grow our economy is not just to create jobs, but to create better jobs for Singaporeans.”

So where are the “better jobs for Singaporeans”? How many Singaporeans and how many Permanent Residents (PRs) get them? Ask till the cows come home and we are none the wiser. The data and statistics presented – like navigating through a maze – do not give us the picture.

Pressed in Parliament for a breakdown on jobs going to Singaporeans and PRs, Minister Chan Chun Sing said: “We can get you the numbers. But let me say this: what is the point behind the question?”

He answered a question with a question. Job done.

However, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan did utter comforting words on the jobs front: “We should not have to apologise that we are tilting the playing field in favour of our own citizens.”

But then, we have been told time and time again that Singapore has an open economy and having fewer foreigners will deprive Singaporeans of jobs and career opportunities.

So which is which?

To compound the mystery and the confusion, Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the ultimate competition is “Team Singapore, comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce … competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.”

Most remarkably, the Minister’s version of Team Singapore comprises foreign workers! Is that why any breakdown of local and foreign workers for jobs created is deemed not meaningful?

Minister Chan also pledged (before the last election): “We will work hard to make sure everyone who wants a job can get a job.”

Words come easy, don’t they?

The Ministry of Manpower yesterday warned of easing momentum in the labour market in the year ahead, noting: “With the recent uptick in retrenchments, unemployment rates could also trend higher.”

If everyone who wants a job can get a job, why would unemployment trend higher? Why are people remaining jobless despite their best efforts?

Which reminds us of what then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told us about the employment situation: “Retrenchment is good for Singapore. If there is no retrenchments, then I worry.”

In that case, we should all be rejoicing now because retrenchments – especially by tech companies – have become commonplace

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