Written by Ng E-Jay
28 Feb 2011
The PAP Government has acknowledged that there is a need to slow down the rate of import of foreigners and concentrate on boosting productivity, but deep flaws remain in its labour and immigration policies.
Budget 2011 does not address these deep flaws. It merely sugarcoats them by raising the foreign worker levy, which makes it more expensive for companies to hire foreign workers. Companies will merely pass the increased costs to consumers. The problems will not be solved. In fact, they will only become worse.
The PAP’s immigration, foreign worker, and foreign talent policies are three distinct but related policies. Insufficient attention has been paid to the distinction between these policies. The purpose of this article is to make clear this distinction and point out where each policy gone wrong.
The PAP’s immigration policy
The PAP Government wants to attract foreigners to take up residence in Singapore and eventually become citizens. Their rationale is that the birth rate of the local population is too far below the replacement level, and consequently there is a need to constantly encourage foreigners to become new citizens.
However, the PAP has pushed the envelope too far on this policy. In order to generate a constant supply of new citizens, they have opened the floodgates and allowed foreigners in too fast.
The result has been rapid population expansion and a resultant strain on the social fabric. Singaporeans feel disenfranchised, even disturbed at what is happening around them. Will the foreigners and the new citizens be willing to embrace local customs and social norms?
Rapid population expansion artificially boosts GDP and allows public servants and ministers to justify astronomical salaries. But this model of economic growth is unsustainable because it is built not on the firm rock of increased productivity and innovation, but on the shifting sands of rapid population growth, which cannot continue indefinitely.
Singapore is a nation of immigrants, as we know from history. But we are no longer the sleepy fishing village of the early 19th century. The Government cannot justify exploding the population with foreigners on the basis that this was done in the early dawn of our nation’s history. We are a modern city with vastly different needs and social circumstances. Our economy has matured. The Government’s policy of rapid population expansion is flawed and can only end in tears if it is not reversed soon and fast enough.
The PAP’s foreign talent policy
The PAP claims that it wants to attract skilled labour to Singapore to complement the local workforce. In fact, this is done in conjunction with the immigration policy described above, because there is the hope that some of the skilled labour would eventually decide to make Singapore their permanent home.
The problem is that the PAP has been indiscriminate in their import of foreign talents. Although the PAP has claimed that skilled foreigners bring in expertise and experience that Singaporeans lack, in reality the situation is different.
Today, we see foreigners taking up administrative jobs, junior to middle management jobs in the private sector, both blue and white collar jobs across almost every industry, jobs in accounting, finance, engineering, and so on.
This is despite the fact that there are more than enough Singaporeans who have the same skills and can take up the same jobs. Why then is there is a need to import so many foreign talents to fill up these places which can be easily filled by locals?
The Government claims that there is a shortage of labour and that without foreign talents, the situation would be even worse. But how does this reconcile with the stories we hear of PMETs going out of work and facing difficulty securing employment once they are past the age of 40?
In reality, the rapid influx of foreign talents benefits businesses disproportionately. All too often, we hear of companies firing lower to middle management personnel and then immediately re-hiring batches of fresh foreign recruits who can be paid a lower salary. This happened, for example, in the last recession.
The PAP’s foreign talent policy keeps wages low and makes it harder for even educated Singaporeans to cope with the rising cost of living. GLCs and MNCs reap the most benefit from this policy, at the expense of heartland citizens who face an uncertain future.
The PAP’s foreign worker policy
The PAP’s foreign worker policy is about allowing companies to import cheap, low-skilled workers from abroad to work in the construction sector and certain service sectors that require mostly menial labour.
However, the PAP’s “growth at all cost” model of economic management has resulted in an extremely high demand for cheap foreign labour.
The PAP wants to do everything at once — build casinos, carry out massive infrastructure re-development, etc. Much of the infrastructure re-development needs in fact stem from the PAP’s immigration policies.
As such, there is a huge demand for low-skilled workers to fund these Government projects.
The problem is that the Government has failed to make adequate arrangements to house these foreign workers and ensure that their rights are protected while they work in Singapore.
Very often, we hear of foreign workers living in poor housing conditions or being exploited by employers.
Migrant rights in fact has become a hot topic for Singapore’s NGOs like Maruah, TWC2 and H.O.M.E. which have been lobbying the Government to uphold the rights of migrants to fair compensation, proper living conditions, and protection from abuse.
The PAP Government’s lack of attention to the human rights of foreign workers have attracted the attention of international observers. The Ministry of Manpower has not done enough to address this pressing issue and has often turned a blind eye to blatant human rights abuses, as detailed in the blog Yawning Bread.
There is a need to hold the PAP Government accountable for its poor governance and its flawed immigration, foreign talent and foreign worker policies.
This process of extracting accountability and transparency from the Government must be undertaken by both opposition parties as well as NGOs and civil society.
Only through a united effort on all fronts can this battle be won.