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The Price of FTAs for Singaporeans

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Written by: Lea Chia
Edited by: Toh Han Shih

The #PSPJobsDebate, preceded by two Ministerial Statements, in Parliament on July 6 was interesting to say the least. There were robust and meaningful engagements, but the 7 parliamentary questions (PQ) posed by the Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai were not addressed. In a deeper look into these PQs, PSP elaborates on why some  FTAs have and will cost Singaporeans and the need for shortcomings in Singapore’s foreign labour policies to be addressed. 

  1. Does the government take positions in FTAs that provide the most leverage for Singaporeans?

In his first PQ, Mr Leong asked if in the process of Singapore’s negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2005 with India, the movement of people from India to Singapore was a bargaining chip that the Singapore government accepted. 

What he wanted to highlight was that the government should strive to take the bargaining position that is most advantageous to Singaporeans and introduce FTAs that would not disadvantage Singaporeans and their jobs. 

In CECA, when it comes to the labour policies, are Singaporeans at the losing end?

  1. Singaporeans must compete fairly: the interplay between domestic and foreign labour policies 

During the #PSPJobsDebate, the Minister of Manpower and Health, Tan See Leng and Ong Ye Kung, shared figures on the foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) who have entered Singapore from India, and the number of jobs that have been created for Singaporeans. 

However, the numbers shared by the two ministers were absolute figures with no comparison to the number of displaced Singaporeans. This does not give a proper perspective to the numbers.

The question is: out of the number of positions that have been taken up by foreign PMETs, how many could have gone to Singaporeans, and how many were taken from Singaporeans? 

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore

The interplay of domestic manpower and  foreign labour policies should be taken into account. How have Singapore’s foreign labour policies affected the displacement of Singaporeans, including the difficulty of re-entering the job market after losing a job and having to settle for lower pay in a new job? 

Mr Leong asserts there is a need to rebalance domestic and foreign talent, and Singaporeans must be able to compete fairly. The narrative that the ministers took was that during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most of the jobs lost were by foreign talent. But this fails to address the issue of displacement in Singapore’s local workforce. 

If this pandemic did not hit Singapore and unemployment did not increase due to this external factor, how are the FTAs impacting Singaporeans’ livelihood?

  1. Is Singapore’s education and training system thriving or lacking?

Quoting former Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say, Dr Tan said while the government cannot guarantee Singaporeans’ employment, it will work “very, very hard” to ensure their employability. He lists Singapore’s education system as one of the ways to improve Singaporeans’ employment prospects. 

However, he justified the influx of foreign PMETs based on the insufficiency of local talent. Mr Ong, a former Education Minister, praised the ‘solid education’ in Singapore that is known around the world. These are contradictory statements. Which is it: is Singapore’s education and training system thriving or lacking? If Singapore’s education is so good as Ong asserts, why have not more Singaporeans taken the jobs occupied by PMETs?

“Don’t push the blame to our universities and polytechnics,” Mr Leong said.

How can the government do better for Singapore’s higher learning and training institutions, since they are not producing enough local talent?

Is Singapore expanding at too fast a rate and too high a cost that it is burdening Singaporeans?  If the nation’s economy expands but does not benefit Singaporeans, what use is it? 

Find out more about the team driving the Progress Singapore Party

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