Singapore — Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh spoke on the motions concerning jobs filed by PSP NCMP Leong Mun Wai and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, which were debated in Parliament on Tuesday, Sept 14.
The Workers’ Party leader made clear the party’s stand on Free Trade Agreements in general, and the controversial Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), in particular.
He also tackled job insecurity felt by Singaporeans, as well as what can be done to ensure that the local-foreign worker divide does not become a permanent fault line in his half-hour-long speech, which can be viewed in full here.
Regarding WP’s stand on FTAs and CECA, he said that it is undeniable that free trade has given both foreigners and Singaporeans more opportunities.
And while the WP accepts the government’s explanation that Indian nationals have not been given free rein into Singapore via CECA, he asked whether the Ministry of Manpower has not “for many years…failed to regulate work passes in the best way possible.”
He added that a few groups, such as the sandwich class and workers who lack skills, “may see depressed wages and fewer job opportunities” despite Singapore pro-trade policies, and said that aggressive intervention must be given to these groups through laws or policies in addition to stronger safety nets.
Mr Singh also said that the WP acknowledges that there are groups from Singapore or abroad that have used CECA “as a dog whistle, masquerading racism for genuine eco concerns.”
He expressed the party accepts that genuine economic concerns exist, but added that WP “abhors and condemns the racism and xenophobia that have become part of the public narrative,” both online and in everyday situations.
And even without the PSP focusing on these concerns, the issue is still there, he added, noting that job displacement is a legitimate concern, with Singaporeans finding themselves replaced by foreigners at work.
He also noted that this is not a new problem, quoting something former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong wrote in his biography, published just a few months ago.
Mr Goh had written, “Take permanent residents for example. In the years before 2011, the numbers rose to 50,000, then 70,000 a year. It was nearly 80,000 in 2008! I was surprised and annoyed I told PM so.
When you add the numbers up over the years, you will begin to feel the cumulative effect within the society and in daily living.”
A key suggestion the LO made is for the government to communicate more, and in a much better way than it has been doing thus far, regarding foreign employment. This would allow a much better and more informed public debate, he added.
But he acknowledged that this calls for “a change of culture” and said that the government should have done this years ago, long before “CECA entered the public lexicon in the way it has done in the past months.”
He cited a 2015 article on the government website Factually regarding whether employers could hire Indian workers without work passes, saying that authorities should have known even then that CECA would create fault lines.
And in 2016, WP MP Leon Perera had asked a question regarding the number of intra corporate transferees (ICTs), for which data was available but he was never given an answer.
“Is this acceptable? Can Singaporeans be blamed for assuming that the numbers must be so huge that the government saw fit not to reveal them?”
He then went on to call on the government to reveal how many ICTs have come to Singapore under CECA from 2005 to 2019, before the pandemic began.
Mr Singh added that the government’s ‘“reactive” approach of releasing data when it suits the authorities, instead of a proactive one that suits the public, would no longer hold water.
The desire to interrogate facts will only increase, he said, adding that the government must take some responsibility for the ‘groundswell’ of misinformation about CECA. /TISG
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