SINGAPORE: Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information, Ms Sim Ann, took issue with the Workers’ Party’s proposal whereby she questioned which groups of Singaporeans will have to step in to make up the shortfall.
Speaking in Mandarin in Parliament on Thursday, she said the circumstances of these groups may not allow them to enter the workforce so easily.
She said: "If we were to go with what the Workers’ Party had proposed, let us now fix the situation as it is today and turn off the foreign manpower tap, and just tap on the local manpower, what are the groups of people that we can tap on?
"Well, first of all, we have the retirees, we have also the homemakers who take care of the elderly and the young children at home. How do we attract them back into the workforce? This is indeed an issue that we have to tackle.
"But as Minister S Iswaran said earlier, what is more important is trying to fix the number of foreign manpower. Of course, if we fix the foreign manpower now as it is, then we invite the retirees and the homemakers to come back to work —— some may be willing, some may not."
Workers’ Party chief Mr Low Thia Khiang said: "Ms Sim Ann talked about the manpower problem, about the many hands, but in 2030, if we have a population of 6.9 million people, but if in 2050 if we have 10 million, and then after that I don’t know how to count. I think, let the future (generations) of Singapore do the counting."
Ms Sim Ann said: "On behalf of the government, I would say that I would show our concern for people of this generation, our next generation, and our future generations, that is why we are here to debate on this very important subject."
Mr Low said: "The Workers’ Party’s proposal has taken in all the concerns that are expressed in this House and were very careful that we don’t want to rock the economy. The proposal is a very careful, considered, calibrated approach. We are looking at a GDP growth of 2.5 to 3.5 per cent, that is not an extreme model."
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said: "You state that your GDP projections are not extreme. Indeed I agree with you. In fact, your GDP projections are not the issue. That is arithmetic.
"What is extreme is your proposal, as a policy, on foreign manpower addition, to this economy, for this decade. That is what is extreme. And that is what is going to cause the kind of issues I talked about.
"And that is what is going to cause the wrong signals to go out, and potentially cause irreparable damage to our reputation and our ability to then turn on the tap in the next decade as the Workers’ Party thinks we can. That’s the crux of the issue."
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and NTUC Secretary—General Lim Swee Say said: "As a labour movement, we are very concerned —— that yes, we want restructuring. But restructuring, you cannot be like a restructuring cliff —— jump from today, tomorrow from disk drives to wafer fab overnight, it won’t happen. You have to go through a process of transition."
MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Mr Ang Hin Kee, said: "It cannot augur well for our efforts to boost local fertility rates if parents with young children are viewed as an inconvenience. Employers need to adopt a right attitude towards parents, especially working mothers.
"Perhaps the government can consider giving Special Employment Credit to employers who are pro—hiring of working mothers. I previously proposed this idea and I think this is the right time to reinforce and reintroduce this concept.
"This may send the right signal and further incentivise companies who are keen to offer flexible work arrangements and attract more mothers to return to the workforce."
MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, said: "We must think of the best way to serve the interest of Singaporeans. We arrived at what we are and where we are, not by chance but by choice.
"Our strength has historically lain in our robust economy that in turn develop and drives employment, salaries and a better quality of life for all our people.
"We should continue to focus on these fundamentals. Ensuring that the economy remains robust means our manpower pool must likewise grow in tandem. If we slow down our growth, we risk a dangerous decline."
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