Singaporeans vs PRs vs foreigners: I ain’t protesting like Hong Kong, but I’ve my “five demands”

By January 13, 2020Current, Perspectives

TL;DR – Four for the Government, one for YOU.

Friends and countrymen, I am here to categorically state that I strongly reject the politics of division and envy. Rather, we should be looking at Team Singapore vs the Rest of the World.

What do I mean by Team Singapore? Well, with us Singaporeans at the core, Team Singapore comprises our own citizens, and the PRs and foreigners who are actively contributing to our society.

“The real competition is Team Singapore, comprising Singaporeans, PRs and foreign workers here, competing with the rest of the world to give our fellow Singaporeans the best chance possible to win, not just in Singapore but across the entire globe.”

Understandably, there is always the fear of foreigners who are less competent or worse, holding fake qualifications, slipping through the net and taking over the jobs of capable Singaporeans. This fear is completely justified. But honestly, it happens elsewhere or rather, everywhere else too in this imperfect world, including Singapore.

We all have heard or seen, or some have even personally experienced, stories of foreign bosses who prefer to hire from within their own nationalities. This can happen anywhere too because that’s human nature. People are attracted to familiarity and comfort zones. It is similar to how Singaporeans tend to congregate within our comfort zones based on interests, religious beliefs and race.

My personal experience with foreigners here

Within the Heritage Conservation Group that I am working closely with, there are Malaysians, Indian Nationals, an Australian, British etc. I consider them Team Singapore working in tandem for the preservation of historical heritage in Singapore.

If I had adopted the stance of some opposition politicians that these foreigners are out to compete with Singaporeans, it would have been totally narrow-minded of me and the Singapore Heritage Preservation scene would have been less vibrant and progressive as a result.

Likewise, in the Management Committee of the estate where my extended family stays, the Chairman is a Hong Konger,, the Hon-Gen Sec and Treasurer are Indian nationals, while the Estate Manager is a Singaporean. They work seamlessly as a team. And guess what? These people have been voted in by residents for three consecutive AGMs!

The foreigners in the committee and amongst the residents at large have made much effort to organise celebratory events during our local festivals. After a while, you just forget who holds the pink IC and who does not. It is simply “whoever makes the effort to join us is one of us”.

Likewise, as Singaporeans in the estate, we are enriched by hearing from our foreign friends residing within our midst, of their culture, of their traditions, and the like.

Although I am an introvert by nature, I have always been someone who does not like cliques. I have witnessed, too many times, irrationality and negativity of some people when it comes to defending the interests of the group members. After a while, nurturing relationships within interest groups and patronage became more important than identifying actual competencies to fulfill the purpose of the group.

Likewise, professional judgement and the ability to see the big picture will definitely be clouded when it comes to having the “us vs them” mindset within the same group or organisation.

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Or a country. In the case of Singapore, we are simply too small and fragile a country to survive the consequences of sectarian strife and conflicts. We may never recover given our geopolitical realities.

We just have to look back at many historical anecdotes to remind us of the perils of the politics of division within a society. Germany in the 1930s, our northern neighbour, China from the late Qian Long era to the era of the Boxer Rebellion, and India from 1947 till now.

I certainly do not want a Singapore to be festered with anti-foreigner sentiments that may manifest eventually into open hostilities. If we reach that stage, there may be no more turning back for Singapore.

At this point, I would like to urge fellow Singaporeans to reject xenophobia and reject extreme positions. We need to reject all efforts to stoke anti-foreign sentiment in Singapore.

And there’re positive stories like this man’s experience working amongst foreigners.

So to the politicians out there who are earnestly thinking of strategies to win votes, you should really be thinking of big picture economic strategies to help Singapore thrive. I seriously do not see anything positive coming out of pitting Singaporeans against foreigners residing and making contributions to our country. I will not hesitate to speak up for my friends if the politics of division landed them in an awkward state in Singapore.

My idea and ideal of an effective Government

Instead, I think we need a Government that puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything, of all the policies.

In my mind, we need a Government that is capable of growing our economy and attracting investments. Why? To create good jobs for Singaporeans and improve their lives, of course.

We need a Government to constantly strive for the right local-foreign balance in our workforce. There need to be policies, laws and guidelines in place to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans by ensuring a fair level playing field.

And with globalisation and digitalisation, we can expect the pace of disruption to happen at an even faster pace. So we also need a Government that is aware of this and implement all the support system and render all the help so that Singaporeans acquire the relevant skills to fill good, new jobs.

What does the Government say?

To this front, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has reiterated the following points repeatedly over the months:

  1. We can be cautiously optimistic. Yes, there are serious challenges ahead, but Singapore’s economic fundamentals remain strong. We have many competitive advantages such as our location, infrastructure, skilled workforce and tripartite partnerships.
  2. Singapore remains an attractive place to do business, and investors have confidence in our economy *PHEW!*
  3. The Government will lead in the effort to transform our economy by developing new sectors, and staying open and connected to work with like-minded partners overseas. Our Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) are part of this big picture plan.
  4. The Government is on the side of Singaporeans, and its approach is to anchor good jobs in Singapore while helping Singaporeans move into these higher-paying jobs as soon as possible.
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Is it all talk only?

Let the numbers do the talking to see if Singaporeans have benefitted from the Government’s effort for the period of, say, 2015 to 2018.

I’ve extracted the following from Minister Chan’s speech in Parliament last Monday (6th January 2020).

  • Local employment grew by nearly 60,000 for the whole economy.
  • 57% of locals employed are in PMET jobs – one of the highest rates in the world.
  • Our youth unemployment is among the lowest among advanced economies.
  • Our growth in real average monthly earnings for employed locals (3.2% per year) is higher than most other advanced economies such as the US, Japan and Germany.

What about all the complaints about foreigners taking away Singaporeans’ jobs?

Minister Chan reminded us that if there are too few foreign workers, especially skilled PMETs, our businesses cannot grow and create better jobs for Singaporeans. So we need to strive for the right local-foreign balance in our workforce.

Because if there are too many foreigners, there will be unhappiness among Singaporeans, especially if they feel unfairly treated or discriminated against.

That said, I cannot stress enough the keen global economic competition for talent and resources.

The reality is that we do not have enough Singaporeans with the relevant skills and experience to fill all the jobs. So the Government needs an approach that can anchor good jobs in Singapore while helping Singaporeans move into these higher-paying jobs as soon as possible.

In the past, we had done this quite successfully with the electronics industry, and we can do this too for new and high-growth areas like the tech sector.

Like what Minister Chan had said, if we reject investments just because some of the higher-paying jobs they create are filled by foreigners today, Singaporeans will have no chance of filling these jobs tomorrow.

So yes, we just need to get the “right” foreigners in, like Nicolette Huang, and not just any foreigner.

I ain’t protesting like Hong Kong, but here are my “five demands”.

I look forward to even more aggressive show of support from the Government to help Singaporeans secure a better future in our homeland. They will need to get quite a few things right.

One, get our economy right. As said above, grow our economy and bring in the investments, especially for emerging growth sectors.

Two, get the balance of local-foreign workforce right. Yes, Singaporeans can accept that we will need PRs and foreign talents in some sectors, but ideally in the lower income sectors where Singaporeans do not aspire to be, and ideally at the top brass of talents that are scarce here but needed to grow the new industries. The latter can help us open new market segments and also train our locals, and also buy us some time as we get the local workforce upskilled and reskilled.

Three, get the legislation and enforcement right. Ministries should be working with businesses to hire and groom Singaporeans, and MOM should really strengthen and enforcement of fair hiring requirements through the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF). Where necessary, signals of strong deterrence should be sent out by taking to task companies with unfair practices. Name and shame them, and ban them from applying for new and renewing work passes. Hit them where it hurts the most.

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Four, get the training part right. I’d like to see the Government continue its investments and effort in education and lifelong learning, to help Singaporeans stay globally competitive and secure better jobs. Be more aggressive with SkillsFuture, Adapt & Grow, and Professional Conversion Programmes.

I read here that as of July 2019, some 4,500 individuals and about 1,100 companies have benefitted from Skillsfuture’s Work-study programmes since it was launched in 2015. And that more than 76,000 job seekers found employment through the Adapt and Grow initiative from 2016 to 2018.

Yet when I speak with my friends, many are still unaware of these initiatives, so more can be done.

And my fifth and last point is not yet another appeal for the Government to do more.

But for all of us Singaporeans to get our mindset right. No doubt the future poses challenges, but it also provides exciting opportunities at the same time. So do not lose heart and let’s stand united and continue to build on the strong foundations that our young country has.

Together, we can.

Actually, only together, we can.

 

Read more personal stories from Team Singapore

1. Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh asked for workforce breakdown. It’s good but it’s not enough
The real competition is not between the Singaporean versus the permanent resident (PR) here versus the foreigner here.

2. I worked with “foreign talents” in a tech company
This is a story about a Singaporean man who did a mid career switch from non-tech to tech. Armed with just three months’ coding bootcamp training, a bunch of foreigners hired him to work with more foreigners. He even met a unicorn there!

3. Singaporean man fell in love with Thailand, gave up expat offer in Germany for a local job in Thailand
This is a story about a Singaporean man who worked in three different countries and came back to build a startup for a market research app.

4. Watching SpaceX launch a rocket and other adventures while living over 1000 days abroad
This is a story about a Singaporean woman who ventured overseas in the States and lived to share her adventures.

5. The Employment Pass (EP) holder who helps underprivileged women into jobs
Meet the EP holder who is not here to steal Singaporeans’ jobs, but to help the underprivileged and contribute to nation-building. She also has some advice for us!

 

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KH Tan

Author KH Tan

I'm a true-blooded Singaporean man who has been educated here, but has had the chance to work overseas. Now back in Singapore, I've a better appreciation of our systems and lives here. I saw first-hand how smart and hungry many foreigners are, and I wish more Singaporeans would venture beyond our shores to gain experience, to broaden horizons and to toughen up.

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