National (or Foreign) Population and Talent Division?

I refer to the article “Some 150,000 more foreigners may be needed by 2030” (Straits Times, Nov 13).

It states that “The National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) made these estimates in an occasional paper released yesterday, noting that the figures “are not targets””.

Instead of focusing on those sectors which are projected to need more foreign workers, shouldn’t the NPTD also be telling us about those sectors which need more Singaporeans in the future, compared to the current mix of Singaporeans and foreigners in the various sectors?

Focus on foreigners or Singaporeans?

Does it not make you wonder whether the NPTD should perhaps be more appropriately called the F (Foreign) PTD, since it seems to be more focused on foreigners rather than Singaporeans?

For example, in a previous paper, the NPTD said that Singapore needs 25,000 new citizens a year.

Message is we need more foreigners?

I particularly liked National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser’s remarks that “But he acknowledged that some might well see the paper “as another attempt to justify letting in more foreigners, and to set higher targets, despite the paper reiterating that it reports only projections and not targets”, because I think he hit it right on the nail that the overall message seems to be telling us that we need more foreign workers.

As to “More broadly, NPTD’s paper is unlikely to spark further unhappiness as “it deals with three sectors that are not particularly attractive employment or career-wise for Singaporeans”, said Tan Ern Ser”, why did the NPTD choose to talk only about these three sectors that don’t really affect Singaporeans’ jobs?

Well, perhaps as commented, “it is unlikely to spark further unhappiness”, and yet perhaps sends out the overall message that we need more foreigners, particularly to readers who only glance at the headlines.

How clever it seems!

Don’t tighten foreign worker tap?

On the same day, there was an article “NMP’s plea: Help SMEs adapt to change” (Straits Times, Nov 13) which said “He wants a slowdown in the tightening of the foreign worker tap”.

Less foreigners = Slower growth?

On the same day, there was also an article “Can Singapore adjust to a low-growth paradigm?” (Straits Times, Nov 13) which said “The stricter foreign labour regime has led to the Government having to forgo $1.1 billion of potential tax revenue, and 35,800 jobs were forgone as a result of the stricter labour policy, estimated Dr Chua”.

So, the message seems to be that less foreign workers may mean slower economic growth.

Foreign workers contribute to lower Singaporeans’ wages?

On the same day, the article “Top 1% earn annual average of $700k” (Straits Times, Nov 13) said “among full-time workers, 100,000 Singaporeans and 10,000 permanent residents earned less than $1,000 a month”.

So, to what extent has the influx of foreign workers contributed to so many low-wage Singaporeans?

Encourage part-time work at low pay?

On the same day, another article “Retirees, housewives for part-time eldercare jobs?” said “The Government hopes to reduce the demand for full-time workers caring for the elderly by encouraging retirees and housewives to work part-time in the sector”.

Hopefully, these part-time workers will not earn only about $4  an hour, like part-time security guards in the recent initiative to get Singaporeans to work part-time in the security sector.

So many job seekers?

On the same day, the article “CDCs get jobs for 3,400 in Q3” (Straits Times, Nov 13) said “About 3,400 job-seekers were placed with employers by Singapore’s five community development councils from July to September, 25 per cent more than in the same period last year. They represented more than half of the 6,200 looking for training and job opportunities at the time”.

Labour crunch: Really?

So, if there is really a labour crunch, such that even a shop in Little India had to place an “apology” advertisement in a newspaper, apologising for it having to have one staff serving five customers instead of one-to-one, because of labour shortage, why are there about 24,800 (6,200 x 4 quarters) job seekers at the CDCs in a year, and the seasonally adjusted figures for the number of unemployed at 59,600 for residents and 53,000 for citizens?

At the current rate of about 13,600 (3,400 x 4 quarters) job seekers being placed, it may appear to be lower than last year’s job placement statistics, as according to the Department of Statistics’ Monthly Digest of Statistics Singapore June 2012, job seekers attended to by the CDCs and e2i, was 99,608 and 100,504, in 2010 and 2011, respectively, and job seekers placed in employment was 17,732 and 14,223, respectively.

This works out to a declining placement rate of 18 and 14 per cent, respectively.

So many apply for social assistance?

As to “Meanwhile, applications for social assistance fell to 13,200 in the third quarter, down 11 per cent on the three months before. But this was still marginally higher than in the same period last year”, does this mean that about 52,800 (13,200 x 4 quarters) needy families apply for social assistance in a year, in addition to existing needy families who are already on social assistance?

To what extent has the influx of foreign labour contributed to the above?

So, six stories in one newspaper in a day – don’t you get the naggy feeling that the overall message may be – we need more foreign workers, or else?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.