SINGAPORE: A considerable amount of time was spent debating the Workers’ Party’s (WP) proposals put forward on Monday by its party chairman Sylvia Lim.
The opposition party had proposed that the growth of foreign worker numbers can be reined in by increasing the labour force participation rate of Singaporeans.
The Workers’ Party also suggested lowering the GDP growth proposed in the White Paper by 0.5 to 1 percentage point.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency Chen Show Mao elaborated on how the economically inactive Singaporeans could be incentivised to join the workforce to boost participation rate.
This includes home makers, foreign spouses of Singaporeans and the elderly.
Mr Chen said: "We should stop seeing elderly Singaporeans as a drain on our economy and a hindrance to our goal to keep Singapore dynamic. Older Singaporeans have much to offer us and not all of it can be measured in economic terms. Our elderly Singaporeans are essential to maintaining a Singapore core."
Mr Chen also suggested: "We may well have programmes in place to increase our total fertility rate, increase our productivity, bring more elderly workers back to work.
"I think what we are proposing is that we focus resources at our disposal on these important directions in policy, instead of importing workers. Even over the longer term, let us plan to grow the resident workforce through increases in the labour force participation rate and in the total fertility rate."
Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan—Jin commented: "You have described the outcomes, you have described the positives, the values of encouraging older workers and how they contribute. I am interested to know the specific programmes you have in mind because you have been talking about the elderly for a long time, surely you have very concrete ideas which I will be very interested to look at."
Mr Tan also repeated his point when Non—Constituency MP Gerald Giam elaborated on the Workers’ Party proposal.
Mr Giam said there should be a target resident labour force growth of one per cent every year from now until 2030.
He said: "We will strive to increase our resident labour force up to one per cent per year from now until 2030. We should strive to keep our foreign labour force constant between now and 2020, depending on our success in growing the local labour force. That does not mean we shut the doors to foreign workers.
"Instead, new work passes will be issued to replace expiring work passes or to supplement shortfalls in the local workforce. Companies will have to find ways to hire more Singaporeans."
Mr Tan said: "A key component of your strategy is to beef up labour force participation rates to such a stage that we actually do not need foreign workers in Singapore, or there’s an increase. I am very interested to know the initiatives and ideas that would actually bring that about and that’s key.
"It’s not the rhetoric that’s important. Governance is about how do you translate ideas, visions, into reality. And that’s what it’s really about. Not just rhetoric, not just pressing the right emotive buttons. It’s about making things happen so that we can realise, I think, a shared vision about how to make things better for Singaporeans."
Mr Giam responded: "I am not sure why the Minister seems to be implying that we’re just doing rhetoric. We intend to push for measures to increase the labour force participation rate. We’ve mentioned things like flexi—work, tele—commuting, part—time work. But I think one area that is a very important way of increasing the labour force participation rate is to raise wages. And the reason is because it increases the opportunity cost of people staying at home."
Second Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran questioned: "May I clarify with the member does the WP’s zero tolerance for foreign workers in this period extend to sectors like construction and others where we have great difficulty in finding Singaporeans to do the job?
"Secondly, this implies zero immigration, no new Singapore citizens or permanent residents (PRs). I’m trying to reconcile with the statement by the WP chairman who advocated extending PR and citizenship to respective groups."
Mr Giam answered: "We do not have a zero tolerance policy towards foreigners. The WP is not an anti—immigrant party and we welcome foreigners who come here to be able to contribute to our economy, contribute to our life over here.
"Regarding the specific question on construction, we do not see the need to increase the foreign labour force numbers. It does not mean we kick off all the foreigners that are here right now. We maintain the numbers that are here and replace those that leave.
"I’m saying we can hit zero if we increase our resident labour force. It’s not our goal to hit zero foreign worker increments. Our goal is to hit that 1 per cent resident workforce and we believe that 1 per cent resident workforce increment can hit the growth we need to sustain a better life for Singaporeans."
Inderjit Singh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC said time is required in tightening the labour force and focusing on productivity.
He said: "Because companies have got a certain business model they are used to. Business models cannot change overnight. If you really care about companies then you will not tighten the labour workforce any further.
"Give them a chance, a longer time horizon to restructure and then tighten the labour force but what the Workers Party is proposing is just shut off the tap right now. That is not going to accelerate restructuring, it’s going to kill companies."
Mr Giam also told the House that the Workers’ Party believes there is room for up to 10,000 Singapore citizens to be brought in per year from now till 2020.
It has based its calculations on an assumption that the total fertility rate (TFR) is at 1.3. The TFR was 1.29 in 2012.
Mr Giam said: "What is our assumption for TFR is 1.3 , that is the assumption we use for our calculation. It is not our target; we have taken a conservative approach. As far as TFR contribution to the workforce, it does not factor into our numbers here, it factors into the final population number but it does not factor into the workforce participation rate."
MP Liang Eng Hwa tabled an amendment motion, urging Parliament to further reinforce the point that Parliament supports maintaining a strong Singaporean core.
The debate continues on Wednesday.
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