What stood out for me with regards to the Fair Consideration Framework, announced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on 23 September, were these two lines in the ministry’s press release, attributed to Mr Tan Chuan Jin:
“The framework is not about ‘Hire Singaporeans First, or Hire Singaporeans Only’. What the government is doing is to help them get a fair opportunity.”
The same minister had said, in May, that like TAFEP, he preferred to use the “moral suasion approach to tackle the issue of discrimination at the workplace.”
Mr Tan “was quick to add that for now, the Government prefers to stick to its approach of persuading companies to change. It “is working for us”, he said, as the root cause of discrimination in Singapore is employers’ mindsets.”
His latest about-turn seems to imply that the “moral suasion” route in fact is not working, but at the same time, he is reluctant to introduce legislation to protect Singaporean workers – and is only willing to pussyfoot around the matter by introducing instead a “framework”. One which he at the same time has to reiterate is not about “hire Singaporeans first”.
There are several things about the above two latest sentences in the MOM statement which are disturbing.
One, that the minister needed to clarify that the framework is not about hiring Singaporeans first. For all intent and purposes, the framework is indeed about hiring Singaporeans first, in fact. How else could it be? If it were not, then why even bother to go through this whole exercise?
Or is the minister saying that all he wants employers and businesses to do is for them to just “consider” Singaporeans first only? Like, you know, all you need do is to think this in your mind, the 2 weeks advert on the MOM Jobs Bank notwithstanding.
And two, if that were so, it is a sad state of affairs that we have come to, as indeed we have, that our Government has to plead/beg/implore/urge (choose any word) employers to consider Singaporeans first. How did we end up this way?
Three, the fact that the minister had to “clarify” so promptly (in the very same statement) that the framework “is not about ‘Hire Singaporeans First’”, shows that he is almost apologetic for having to come up with such a framework. And apparently he is also quick to distance himself from any such suggestion – that the framework is about hiring Singaporeans first.
Apparently, he feels there is something wrong with such a suggestion.
Isn’t it a bit strange that a minister would shy away from saying, “Yes, please hire Singaporeans first”? That he in fact had to disavow such a suggestion when the framework is in fact about hiring Singaporeans first?
How did we end up in such a state – where citizens have to bend at the knee to even be considered for a job?
There are, of course, a few culprits – the most important one being the Government’s open-door immigration and foreign labour policies the last 10 to 15 years, particularly the last 5 years or so. Many have said much about this already.
There is another culprit which is just as responsible for this woeful state we find ourselves in – and this is the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC).
The plight of the PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives, Technicians) is not new. As far back as 7 years ago, rumblings on the ground were already being heard, as in this blog post by Mr Derek Wee.
Volunteer aid workers, such as transitioning.org, had been raising the matter in public and to the government for a long time as well.
But what they were met with were derision and ridicule and chidings. Singaporeans are “choosy”, said one PAP MP. “Singaporeans are mollycoddled,” said another PAP MP. “Singaporeans are champion grumblers”, said former Minister Mentor. “Spurs are not stuck to their hides.”
In its latest report, the Department of Statistics revealed that there are almost 500,000 Singaporeans who earn S$1,500 or less each month.
That is some 20 per cent of the local working population.
At the very bottom end of things, our 70,000 (elderly) cleaners, sweepers, and others with low-skilled jobs have not seen any salary increases for about 10 years. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that wages have in fact gone down because of foreign labour competition.
It is a fact that cleaners, for example, earn as low as $600 per month.
So, where has the NTUC been all this while?
When its chief happily espoused a “cheaper, better, faster” philosophy to the economy, you know you’re in trouble. And as if to mock Singaporeans further, he later even came up with a new spin to that slogan: “better, betterer, betterest”.
But for all his pathetic rhetoric, wages continue to stagnate, and employment discrimination have taken root. The NTUC chief too is vehemently against any suggestion of a minimum wage.
In May last year, the NTUC proposed that workers earning less than $1,000 – including cleaners – be given a S$50 pay hike. It is unclear how many of the 70,000 cleaners have been given such an increase since.
At the other end of the spectrum, our foreign workers who hold Work Permits continue to be exploited, with stories of their exploitation not uncommon.
It would thus seem that from the professionals, managers and executives, to the low-skilled cleaners, to the foreign workers, our labour landscape has some fundamental flaws which need to be addressed.
To come up with a “Fair Consideration Framework”, which could be applauded for effort, is nonetheless an ineffective way to deal with workplace or employment discrimination.
To have a union which is toothless and led by an ineffective leader is something which needs to be changed. It is time that Singapore had an independent union to represent workers.
The NTUC is woefully ineffective and useless. The way it treated its own long-time employees is deplorable. (See here.)
Ultimately, however, it all boils down to the open-door policy of the Lee Hsien Loong Government. It has in recent times tried to show that it is doing something about the policy. Unfortunately, the latest population statistics show that the rise in our population has continued.
More tellingly, the stats warn that if we continue on this trajectory of population growth through immigration, we will reach the White Paper’s “working perimeter” of 6.9 million by 2030.
The Government vehemently denies it has such a target, even as the two previous “working perimeters” of 4 million and 5 million of 1990 and 2002 were breached in 2000 and 2010 respectively.
Recent revelations of master plans, such as relocating PSA to free up land for residential developments, and building more roads, and exploring underground living, coupled with the government’s non-committal “assurance” to let Pulau Ubin remain in its current state “for as long as possible”, (the Government’s original plan for Pulau Ubin included one for 400,000 residential units on the island), and Khaw Boon Wan’s suggestion that foreign workers be housed in “offshore islands”, perhaps shows us that the Government is indeed planning for a 6.9m population.
My own belief is that it is in fact planning for a much larger one of 8 to 10 million – figures which in fact have been mentioned in the Government-controlled mouthpiece, the local media.
Besides the serious and negative consequences on our employment or labour landscape, the flawed immigration policy also has very serious consequences on the effort to preserve our history and heritage.
The competition for space has resulted in the continued erasing of our heritage sites.
“Tombstones of 20 notable Singaporeans once buried in the former Bidadari cemetery will be preserved in the 10ha park,” the National Heritage Board (NHB) happily and proudly announced on 7 September.
Yes, we preserve our heritage by preserving tombstones.
Or we sell out our heritage to developers and ask them to preserve them, resulting in insults such as this one:
Read what one blogger wrote about it: “Conservation consternation.”
And work will soon start “early next year” on the highway which will cut through the historical Bukit Brown Cemetery, which holds more than 100,000 graves, even as calls for the Government to spare the cemetery continue from Singaporeans and heritage enthusiasts and experts.
And all around the island, there are parcels (even small ones) of land being built on, which invariably are condominiums. Flip through the weekend papers and one will see the numerous offerings of the latest condo developments around our tiny island. They are so many, so ubiquitous and at times so ridiculous that you end up with such condos literally by the side of the road, as in this one. (Picture right)
You can literally jump from your first floor window onto the bus-stop below.
In the end, whether it is our heritage, our physical space, or our labour landscape, the Government seems to have lost its direction. It is doing piecemeal patch-up work on some policies, while continuing to disregard Singaporeans’ concerns about others.
So, when the prime minister says “success of policies lies in trust in Government”, one can’t help but realise two things:
One, success of policies, on the contrary and in fact, lies in having good people in Government, people who are not ensconced in their ivory towers, or who are paid so much they lose touch with the common man.
As former head of the Civil Service, Ngiam Tong Dow, said recently, “[It] started going downhill when we started to raise ministers’ salaries.”
Two, that conversely, that if people no longer trust the Government, then perhaps that Government should realise that its policies may be flawed and look to overhaul them, instead of – in the words of PM Lee – “calibrate a little to the left, a little to the right”.
At the end of the day, there is only one thing which will stop the destruction of our identity as citizens of this country – and this is a political solution.
We have seen how the Government was apparently spurred into action to address some of the concerns of Singaporeans after GE 2011 and after 2 by-elections, which resulted in the PAP losing an unprecedented number of parliamentary seats.
If we want to preserve what we hold dear – our space, our history, our heritage, our very identity as Singaporeans – we will not do so with the current ruling party. It has paid nothing but lip service to Singaporeans’ concerns so far.
For remember: despite all its rhetoric about curbing immigration, the fact is that the number of new citizenships increased, and the overall population also increased, according to the DOS report in September. Of course, the Government mouthpieces in the media spins the 1.6 per cent increase in population as “the slowest growth in 9 years”.
But the key word here is “growth” – that we continue to bring in many people despite all the rhetoric to curb the numbers.
There is only one way to stop this madness of the PAP Government continuing to inundate the island with an ever-increasing population and at the same time destroying our physical space, history, heritage and identity. Things which are important to us.
PM Lee’s policies have failed. And it is time that Singaporeans considered a different party for government – and a different leader to lead them.
It is time we had a Government which will stand up for Singaporeans, and not one, for example, which can only plead with employers to give Singaporeans a “fair consideration” – after all the mess it has created the last 10 years.
It is time we stopped having to bend at the knee even in having a decent job or an opportunity for one.