On Tuesday (Sep 14), Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Leong Mun Wai spoke at length on a motion on Singapore’s foreign talent policy, focusing on Singapore’s free trade agreement (FTA) with India, also known as the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).
During his 37-minute-long speech, the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament criticised many aspects of Singapore’s foreign talent policy, and called for the government to implement a number of “concrete measures” to help improve the lives of Singaporeans.
PSP against linking the debate on CECA to racism: Leong
At the beginning of his speech, Leong called upon the government to take urgent and concrete action to address the “widespread anxiety” among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihoods, which he attributed to the foreign talent policy, and FTAs such as CECA.
He also stated “categorically” that the PSP was “against linking the public discourse on CECA to racism”, claiming that it resulted in a division among Singaporeans.
Leong emphasised that PSP’s motion is solely about the jobs and livelihoods of Singaporeans, and that their criticisms of any policies were not directed at any nationality or race.
He said that PSP understands the need for Singapore to have the “right foreign talent” to complement its Singaporean core, and welcomes foreigners to work with Singaporeans for mutual benefit.
“The PSP is for pro-free trade, but not free-for-all trade,” said Leong. “Free trade must benefit all our people, and not just some people.”
Singapore not actually attracting foreign talents: Leong
In his speech, Leong argued that the government should have been more careful in managing the quality of foreign workers that were allowed into Singapore.
He claimed that in the 1990s, Singaporeans largely did not react negatively to concept of foreign talents, given how Singaporeans were “industrious and pragmatic”, and were keen to learn from others.
However, he claimed that the government “opened the floodgates” for relatively low wage work pass holders, referring to S Pass and Employment Pass (EP) holders, instead of attracting foreign talent.
He said that in 2008 alone, around 80,000 Work Pass holders became Permanent Residents (PRs), and this supposedly resulted in a “large displacement” of Singaporean professionals.
Asking questions on behalf of Singaporeans: Leong
Leong then directed a number of different questions to different ministries, although he notably asked them on behalf of “Singaporeans”, rather than asking them in his own capacity, or on behalf of his party.
For example, he directed a question towards the Minister for Trade and Industry, one of many, and claimed that Singaporeans want to know what the definition of foreign talent is, and whether the hundreds of thousands of work pass holders in Singapore are all considered to be foreign talent.
He repeated this later, directing a question towards the Minister for Manpower.
“Hence, Singaporeans would like to confirm with the Manpower Minister again. A, whether there are not enough Singaporeans to meet employers’ demand, or employers prefer work pass holders. B, is the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) monitoring under-employment, and C, is the objective of the government to protect jobs or Singaporeans, or just to protect jobs?”
Leong also directed a question towards the Minister for Education, attributing these questions to Singaporeans.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this was when he gave an impassioned appeal for the government to provide Singaporeans with more information on how the policy has affected locals.
“Give me the data. Give me the answers. Singaporeans are crying out,” he said.
Criticised foreign HR manager for not knowing about NS
Leong also referred to an anecdote shared by Senior Minister of State for Transport Chee Hong Tat.
A Singaporean attended a job interview at an MNC, and was asked by the foreign human resources (HR) manager what his two-year stint in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) represented.
At this point, Leong raised his voice a little, criticising the HR manager for being ignorant about local norms. Leong said:
“This HR manager exemplifies all that is wrong with our immigration and employment policies, for allowing a foreigner who has little knowledge about the local job culture to be in a decision-making position. No male Singaporean job seeker should be made to go through this kind of insult again.”
Raise qualifying salaries for EPs to S$10,000
Towards the end of Leong’s speech, he called for the government to implement a number of measures, in order to restore balance to the job market.
Firstly, the PSP recommends the qualifying salaries for EPs and S Pass holders to be increased to S$10,000 and S$4,500 respectively, over a period of time, in order to raise the quality of foreign workers in Singapore.
He also pushed for a standard monthly levy of S$1,200 on all EPs to be introduced immediately, in order to reduce “unfair wage competition”.
Leong also called for a 10 per cent cap on a single nationality within a company, in order to ensure diversity within the workforce, and “seek talent from different parts of the world”, rather than having foreign workers be predominately from a single country or region.
In addition, PSP also wants to implement a combined PMET cap, of between 25 to 30 per cent, on all work pass holders and PRs within a company, although new companies should be allowed to deviate from the cap if they can prove a genuine shortage of skills needed in Singapore.
Leong also pushed for the number of new PRs and citizenships awarded to be reduced, in order to be in sync with the overall tightening of foreign manpower in Singapore.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top image via YouTube/MCI.