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“These numbers have always been low,” Dr. Tan said.
Dr Tan said the PSP “is focused on increasing the number of Foreign Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) to claim that the locals have been relocated and lost.”
“He painted a picture of generalized displacement based on the anecdotes he heard. But how did local PMETs actually perform? MOM publishes this data regularly, with fine granularity, but the PSP made no mention of it, ”said Dr Tan, adding that the PSP had requested a“ multitude ”of data, but did not use any in its entirety. his arguments.
The manpower minister said he would instead focus on how local PMETs actually performed, sharing in the House a series of numbers and charts on the matter.
Over the past decade, there has been an increase of 110,000 EP and S Pass holders, but local PMETs have increased by 300,000, figures which were also shared by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong earlier.
“This shows that competition between locals and foreigners is not a zero-sum game,” Dr Tan said.
In addition, local PMET unemployment, outside of times of crisis, has generally remained at 3% or less. Meanwhile, the number of PMET vacancies has “trended upward” since 2010 and has “hovered” around 30,000 over the past five years.
Finally, he said median local PMET salaries rose from S $ 4,600 in 2010 to S $ 6,300 in 2020, an increase of 38%, or 21% in real terms.
“In fact, the proportion of our workforce in PMET jobs is among the highest in the world at almost 60 percent, doubling from 30 percent in the early 1990s – that’s a very picture. different from the dire situation the PSP has portrayed, ”said Dr Tan.
He then went on to address the measures proposed by Mr. Leong and his NCMP colleague Ms. Poa to tighten the flow of foreign labor to Singapore, challenging them to explain how their suggestions would not undermine the attractiveness of Singapore for foreign investors.
One of the proposals was to increase eligible salaries to S $ 10,000 for employment pass holders and S $ 4,500 for S pass holders over the next three years. years.
Dr Tan countered that Mr Leong may not have known that eligible salaries increase with age and that the eligible salaries cited by the PSP NCMP, S $ 2,500 for S passes and S $ 4,500. for PE, are the minimum wages admissible at the youngest ages. The salary eligible for the EP for people in their forties is, for example, double the minimum.
“Many companies, including SMEs, are already screaming that they are not able to access the foreign PMETs they need,” he said.
Regarding setting quotas for locals and for any unique nationality in a company, Dr Tan said it would be difficult to attract companies into a new field here if there were not enough local talent in a company. this domain.
“If the PSP insists on a 30% quota, then I would like to ask: would you refuse a company that creates 69 high-end jobs for locals because it needs 31 foreigners?
“I am afraid that the PSP is calling for policies that are not only short-sighted but protectionist, and that this will seriously harm Singaporeans,” he said.
After his speech, Mr. Leong and Ms. Poa provided clarification. Ms Poa wanted to know, in particular, whether the growth in the number of PMETs among locals was due to “reclassification” as mentioned in her speech.
She had raised doubts in her speech about a figure given by Dr Tan, in particular that jobs in local SMEs increased by 380,000 from 2005 to 2020.
Some of those jobs could be due to “reclassification,” resulting from permanent residents (PRs) becoming citizens and foreigners becoming PRs, she said.
She then asked whether a significant part of the increase of 380,000 jobs in local SMEs could come from a change of residence status of job holders, and not from the creation of new jobs.
“How many new local SME jobs have been created, offsetting the reclassification effect? she asked.
Although Dr Tan said the majority of the growth in PMET positions over the past decade has gone to Singapore-born citizens, Ms Poa has raised the issue on several occasions, asking for a specific number.
Ms Poa also referred to companies that try to circumvent the qualifying criteria for wages by underpayment, that is, by making inflated wage claims to MOM or by asking the employee to reimburse a portion. of his wages in cash.
She suggested that there should be audits on successful bidders for large contracts to ensure companies are complying with workforce policies. She also proposed that MOM allow HR managers so that those who fail standards can have their licenses revoked.
“We are not asking for a closed economy or a closed labor market, but a reduction in our dependence on foreign labor to a lower level and close monitoring of wage growth as we adjust. the level of foreign participation in our workforce, ”she said. noted.
Ms Poa also pointed out that the tightening labor market would lead to higher wages, showing the link between the growth of median real wages and the growth of the labor force from 2009 to 2019. Her conclusion was that the growth of the labor force depresses real wage growth.
“If our priority is economic growth, then we should indeed welcome all foreign direct investment (FDI) even if it would require a huge influx of foreign labor,” she said.
“But if our priority is wage growth, then we would be more selective and focused on providing FDI that mainly benefits local labor and does not require a high proportion of foreign labor. . “
Mr Wong countered in his closing remarks that this was also a “simplistic” conclusion and that wages will not automatically rise when labor markets tighten.
“Beyond a certain point, if wage increases are not accompanied by increases in productivity, we will lose our competitiveness. “
MEMBERS OPPOSE PSP’S MOTION
Some Members of Parliament (MPs) who spoke on the motions reiterated that many of Singapore’s big companies were playing a global game and would not hesitate to leave the country if its policies did not suit them.
Without these companies, there would be no jobs for local SMEs, they said.
MP Patrick Tay (PAP-Pioneer) agreed that there should be skills transfer programs to facilitate the transfer of skills from foreign specialists to local SMEs, adding that human resources (HR) standards should be improved. to make their processes more transparent.
“Human resources practitioners, especially those in recruiting functions, play a critical role in ensuring that companies comply with employment laws and regulations in order to improve compliance with fair employment practices.” , did he declare.
“They are also advocates for recruiting Singaporeans to positions within their companies. It is therefore important that we move towards increasing certification and accreditation of HR practitioners. “
But Mr. Tay, who is part of the labor movement, opposed Mr. Leong’s motion because he felt it suggested that no concrete steps had been taken to strengthen the core Singaporean workers, so that this was not the case.
MP Vikram Nair (PAP-Sembawang) also opposed Mr. Leong’s motion, arguing that Singaporeans’ professional anxieties could be attributed to business difficulties, exacerbated during the pandemic, which led to layoffs. FTAs have nothing to do with it, he said.
Mr Nair said he also opposed Mr Singh’s proposal to amend Mr Wong’s motion and include a call for the release of more information, which Mr Nair called of Mr. Singh’s “favorite subject”.
“There is actually a lot of information already, this quarterly labor market data, advanced market data with breakdowns of Singaporeans and foreigners employed,” Nair said.
“So I think a hint that there isn’t adequate information is something I can’t support.”