My beady eyes over Lee’s numbers, part 2

To make a better distinction between citizen and foreigner, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong promised $9,000 to every National Serviceman, payable at three defined milestones. Why nine? Why not ten, or 75? In any case, as a solution to the hoary issue of unhappiness with the numbers of foreigners and immigrants in Singapore, I thought this (or any amount) rather strange, but it didn’t take long for me to see it as a pre-election give-away in disguise.

Nonetheless, he spent a large part of his National Day Rally speech — Singapore’s equivalent of a State of the Republic address — dealing with the issue of foreigners in our midst, and to a large extent, he grappled with the key elements of it, explaining why foreigners were needed and expressing sympathy for the feelings of dislocation that resulted. He understood, he said, that people were “still concerned about competition for jobs, about crowding, and deeper things about the character of our society.” However, he offered nothing new by way of solutions.

Evidently, the open-door policy is going to continue, albeit some moderation would be in store. Saying, “Now we should consolidate and slow down the pace,” he estimated this year’s intake to be in the region of 80,000 instead of the earlier-announced 100,000.

It is still a biggish figure, representing an increase of about 1.5 percent of the population already here. Nonetheless, the government appears confident that “Singaporeans [will] understand logically if we argue it out with them why we need foreign workers,” in Lee’s words.

Many readers may not like me for saying this, but I more or less agree.

My feeling is that the People’s Action Party (PAP) has a better reading of the ground than one can glean from just looking at the blogosphere. If one looks only at what’s written on the ‘net, one would think that there was widespread and extreme frustration with the influx of foreigners. But over the last few months, I have also taken the opportunity whenever I could, to ask people, face to face, what they thought of foreign workers and immigration.

The responses were not aligned with internet sentiment. Almost all the people I have spoken to on this subject didn’t have strong feelings about it. They generally accepted that Singapore today cannot function without significant numbers of foreigners doing jobs ranging from the menial to the sophisticated. Without foreigners, our trash would go uncollected, our hospitals would grind to a halt, our bus frequencies reduced, and queues at retail check-out counters lengthen maybe twice as long.

They were all aware of the complaints, but it was striking how many of them referred to the complainers (apologies, for want of a better word)  in the third person: “they”, “some people say”, and so on.

This is not to pretend that the people I spoke with are representative of Singaporeans as a whole, but at the very least, I think the frequency with which I encountered these relatively mild views contests the idea that anti-foreigner sentiment is very widely held.

* * * * *

Nonetheless, even if they are not the majority, those with grouses against the intake of foreigners have legitimate concerns. Lee himself conceded that. They however, don’t do themselves much of a service by failing to articulate clearly what exactly their concerns are. Very likely, there are different subgroups with different concerns, but to the listener, it’s difficult to tell them apart. This is especially when expressions of frustration tend to have these characteristics:

  • emotive, sometimes xenophobic language
  • complaints about job discrimination tend to be notional rather than backed by ground examples
  • often linked to ranting about military service
  • occasionally linked to anti-People’s Action Party cries

Below is a simple chart, showing the different categories  of foreigners (or foreign-born citizens) in Singapore. The sizes of arrows are roughly proportionate to the numbers involved:

Different groups impact on Singaporeans in different ways, and I would encourage those with grievances to articulate clearly which group you are talking about and how exactly that group produces the concerns that you have. To help the dialogue along, let me sketch out the main groups:

Work Permit Holders – they tend to be low-paid, doing the jobs that very few Singaporeans want to do, mostly in sanitation, construction, shipyards and domestic caregiving. Their numbers however are relatively huge. With the exception of domestic workers, the government uses a “Dependency ratio” to control their numbers, i.e. a company cannot have foreign workers exceeding x percent of its workforce. Employers must also pay a monthly levy. Furthermore, only certain sectors are permitted to hire Work Permit Holders.

To those who are “anti-foreigner”, the question is this: What exactly do you want? Reduce their numbers? How are we going to get the 16,000 and 22,000 new flats that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) plans to build this year and next? How do we get our new metro lines built? Who will look after our kids and aged parents? If you accept that, no, we cannot realistically reduce their numbers, then the fact will be that the total numbers of foreigners will not be significantly lower, because Work Permit Holders are the bulk of them. My rough estimate is that there are perhaps about one million of this category here.

S-Pass and Employment Pass Holders – The S-Pass is for those with a technical qualification or diploma earning between S$1,800 and S$2,500 a month, and the Employment Pass is for those earning over S$2,500 a month. As far as I can see from the Ministry of Manpower’s website, the S-Pass is subject to a dependency ratio, but not the Employment Pass.

My guess is that this is the group that causes the most unease. Herein probably lies concerns about competition for jobs. More generally, the ready availability of Employment Passes (no dependency ratio) can have a dampening effect on salaries. The government, for its part, hardly releases any data that can help clarify the situation:  we don’t know how many such passes are issued, we don’t know what salaries are paid to this group.

Permanent Residents – a portion of Employment Pass Holders and the families decide to become Permanent Residents after living a while here. The numbers involved have grown fast. Permanent Residents numbered 112K in 1990, 287K in 2000 and now stands at 541K in 2010, roughly doubling every decade.

Permanent Residents compete for resale HDB flats, places in schools, etc.

New Citizens – A proportion of Permanent Residents eventually decide to apply for citizenship. I’m not able to find consistent data over many years as to the numbers involved, but a report in AsiaOne indicated that we will need about 20,000 new citizens each year to top up the shortfall in our birthrate. (AsiaOne, 20 July 2010, 20,000 new citizens needed every year)

The question of new citizens brings along issues such as the racial balance — Lee referred to this in his Malay speech — and the equity of National Service, among other things.

* * * * *

I’m not going to be able to discuss in detail the various issues each category raises without making this essay hopelessly long. For now, the purpose is simply to point out that the multi-faceted issue of foreign workers and immigration is amenable to dialogue, understanding and resolution provided all parties articulate clearly what they want, pinpointing which category of foreigners they are referring to, and provided the government is more transparent about data.

It is not an issue of People versus Government. A significant number of Singaporeans, maybe even a majority, are not up in arms over the issue, even if they are uneasy over specific aspects of it.

And one more thing: I also feel our opposition parties should be clearer what ideas they have about this issue. It is not impressively responsible, in my view, to be standing on the sidelines egging the unhappy individuals on without themselves offering some coherent thoughts about a matter that is crucial to Singapore. They could start, for example, by saying something about what they would do about the abysmally low birthrate that is one of the root causes of our need for immigration.

76 Responses to “My beady eyes over Lee’s numbers, part 2”


  1. 1 yuen 4 September 2010 at 00:21

    I believe the biggest grievance is PRs buying HDB resale flats causing prices to rise, after which HDB raises new flats to “market value”.

    Second biggest is probably foreign students getting full scholarships to attend NUS/NTU; the criticism is relatively muted as most such students do reasonably well and stay to work their bond, but a small no. slip away and such cases may increase as the tricks become better known.

    Some cases get highlighted of well paid foreign employees turning out to be not so talented or get into trouble, but these are isolated.

    As for the election, it cannot be imminent, with a series of negative events occurring recently

    • 2 twasher 4 September 2010 at 20:42

      yuen,

      People are resentful about those scholarships because:
      1) They offer way more such scholarships to foreigners than to Singaporeans;
      2) This disparity in offers is not reflected in actual abilities as manifested in the nationalities of students who do well. I’m told that most of the first-class honours recipients are Singaporeans, not foreigners, yet the vast majority of these Singaporeans are not on scholarships, while the foreigners are.
      3) We all know that there are many Singaporeans who cannot get into local universities and are forced to study overseas if they want a degree. It’s not clear that they are any less ‘deserving’ of a place compared to the many foreigners we give a free education to.

      In short, objectors to the current largesse of scholarships think that we are unjustifiably neglecting local talent, both in terms of awarding university places and financial support. To make a stronger case for their respective arguments, both sides need more data as to the quality of Singaporeans being neglected and that of foreigners who currently get scholarships.

      • 3 yuen 4 September 2010 at 21:01

        I have no data, but believe that between PSC, Astar, Mindef, DSO, MAS, URA, … , the number of scholarships available to locals must number a few hundred each year, probably not much less than MOE scholarships for foreigners in number, and certainly much higher in expenditure since these are mostly for overseas study. So in one sense, locals are not neglected.

        But of course these scholarships are for a different purpose, to catch promising students as the future elite. “Ordinary” singaporean students get neither kind of scholarships and need to fend for themselves, e.g. by giving tuition lessons.

      • 4 twasher 4 September 2010 at 21:13

        yuen,

        Some of those organisations, like AStar open those scholarship to foreigners as well. The only condition is that they must eventually take up Singapore citizenship.

        The expenditure is higher but the bond is longer.

        Judging by the number of foreign students on MOE scholarships in local schools, I would guess there are way way more foreigners on those scholarships than there are Singaporeans on overseas scholarships. In my JC alone there were several hundred such foreigners.

        Finally, my point was specifically about Singaporeans studying in local institutions being underrated, so overseas scholarships are besides the point.

      • 5 Fox 5 September 2010 at 00:14

        yuen,

        Actually, it costs quite a lot of money to sponsor these foreign undergrads. Take a typical PRC SM2 student under a MOE scholarship. He/she has to undergo 1 year of bridging courses in English, programming, Math and Science, taught by university instructors in NUS, before he/she is even allowed to enroll in NUS/NTU. In NUS/NTU, where he/she enrolls for 4 years, the full-fee tuition amounts to about 30,000 SGD per annum. Hence, tuition alone would cost about $150,000 (30,000 x 5). If you factor in the living allowance, which is another $6000 per year, then it totals up to $180,000 per student. I know these numbers because I taught one of those bridging courses in NUS.

        I know a DSTA overseas scholar who studied in the same university as I am currently in. Her bond, if liquidated, would cost about $300,000.

        The disparity in cost is not as great as you suggest.

    • 6 T 5 September 2010 at 14:19

      My pet peeve is that most of those foreign students given scholarships are older than our own students, usually one or two years older. The point is that a 2-year gap is a tremendous advantage, given that students of that age are maturing fast. It is like getting our middleweight boxers to fight with heavymeights.

      • 7 yuen 5 September 2010 at 17:30

        not quite true; male citizens in NUS/NTU are two years older than female ones and about same age or slightly older than foreign scholars

  2. 8 Defennder 4 September 2010 at 01:02

    Hi Alex,

    I believe you would have got a significantly different response if you had specifically asked people on the ground what they thought of skilled foreign workers/students and PRs. Too often the debate is caricatured over whether Singapore should welcome foreigners or not. It’s like asking if the Fed Reserve should be abolished when the real debate is over what the Fed should be doing to stimulate the economy.

    • 9 rojakgirl 4 September 2010 at 01:35

      Yes, I agree too.

      On the internet, much of the frustration against foreign workers is actually vented against the skilled ones, though sometimes the anger spills into the lowly skilled or unskilled sectors. The latter might derive from the fact that “foreign workers” is not always defined in terms of ethnicity, race, nationality, etc. I mean: sure, there’s anger against those from India, Philippines, China, etc. but why is there less anger against those from Europe, America and certain Asian countries like Japan, Taiwan or even Hong Kong? Anyone have any ideas? Because to be fair, it doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re still taking away the position, no?

      And sometimes, this anger is directed against maids and foreign brides too. It would seem that a minority equate foreign workers with certain types of foreigners?

  3. 11 LC 4 September 2010 at 01:48

    Dear Alex,

    To add to what yuen has said, the other big grievance is jobs. In my mind this is the most important one. Singaporeans are losing their jobs and being replaced by foreigners. Or the job was never open to singaporeans in the first place. The evidence is overwhelming.

    The dependency ratio, which states that the foreign staff must be a % of local staff, is easily circumvented as it counts PRs as locals. The numbers tell the story – there has been a huge increase in number of PRs. And getting a PR was very easy until the beginning of this year. Thus foreigners converted to PRs count as locals, enabling the company to employ more foreigners.

    Foreign companies, which are the pillar of PAP economic policy, are under no obligation to employ locals, as far as I know. No dependency ratio requirement for them. Foreign companies are everywhere, and as a whole are one of the largest employers besides the govt.

    The govt themselves are hiring foreign staff. In fact as long as the HR can write a letter to MOM saying that the position can’t be filled by a local, the foreign staff will be employed- that is a fact. This can be seen in many govt bodies, which have been “corporatised”. Also in our defence industries as well.

    “complaints about job discrimination tend to be notional rather than backed by ground examples”
    No offence, but, Alex, where have you been? Take a walk around Shenton Way or Suntec, go to the IT depts of the banks, local and foreign – where are the locals? Here, I give examples – Go to DSO, ST Engineering, A-star research centres, NUS, NTU, Starhub, Singtel – full of foreign staff. Did any of these companies actually follow dependency ratio? There is no need to add more examples in our service and F&B industries, we can experience for ourselves. My Malaysian friend, who just arrived in Singapore to work at NTU (yes a living example) asked me, “Are we in China?”

    The whole sorry state of affairs is driven by the PAP mindset that Singaporeans are not good enough, anything foreign is better, or cheaper, or both. The PAP economic policy also drives Singapore as a whole to compete on cost, driving the addiction to cheap foreign labour.

    There are people that think that my thinking is being “small minded” and the govt is being so wonderful in giving others a chance to succeed in life. That is fine, as long as we give our own people a chance too. At this rate, future generations starting work have not much of a chance, no thanks to PAP policy, which I have to emphasise is at our own people’s expense. That is not to mention those looking for work, or long term unemployed now.

    Unfortunately the PAP has not been open to any kind of dialogue. I don’t expect them to be as long as they secure the “mandate of heaven”. Just look at our neighbours up north. After the shock at the polls, BN is now working a lot harder and there is even some concessions to the non-Malays. That was never going to happen if there was no tsunami at the elections. Similarly the PAP will only begin to take real action when they realise that they are actually losing seats in parliament. That is why we must vote opposition now.

  4. 12 LC 4 September 2010 at 02:17

    Dear Alex,

    Just to add, that you had written,

    “My feeling is that the People’s Action Party (PAP) has a better reading of the ground than one can glean from just looking at the blogosphere.”

    Yes you are right. I believe there is widepsread anger, and the PAP knows it very well. Their plan is just to push through the policy regardless. This has happened countless times. Remember the Casino Debate?

  5. 13 Fox 4 September 2010 at 06:19

    How can Singapore’s current low birth rate be a justification for opening our doors to so many foreigners in recent years? If we have a low birth rate today, it is not a problem today or tomorrow or even 5 years down the road. It is only a problem 20 to 30 years later. Babies are NOT workers. In fact, a low birth rate is a boon now because it decreases the dependent to active ratio.

    It is the shortfall between 1980 and 1990 that is relevant and we weren’t that below replacement levels in those years.

    Let’s say we’re 10,0000 babies short per annum during those years, which is a rather generous estimate. That in no way justifies the horde of foreigners we’ve let in in the last 10 years.

    • 14 yuen 4 September 2010 at 08:02

      on the specific issue of employment, probably the grievance lies in some changes that creeped in since about 15 years ago: foreign talent used to be specialized, e.g., Shenton way foreign exchange traders, NUS lecturers in newly expanding subjects,(I myself came in 1983 to join the CS dept) PhD students – Singaporeans prefer to get PhDs in the West; and of course there were maids and construction workers; generally speaking, these created no complaints from Singaporeans

      since early 90s, foreign undergrads on MOE scholarship began to arrive in large numbers in NUS/NTU, and direct recruitment was also done from India/China; this has not just created competition for jobs, but also allowed employers to keep wages down; in other words, the competition foreigners produce is more “general” than in the past

      further, in old days senior managers in GLCs and major public organizations had to be local – foreigners were not trusted to follow local culture; however, DBS began to have forien CEOs, and NUS to have foreign deans, some time in the 90s; the ideas that “at least certain jobs are only for locals” no longer holds;

      I feel these changes have made FT less psychologically acceptable than in the past

      • 15 Fox 4 September 2010 at 09:39

        “since early 90s, foreign undergrads on MOE scholarship began to arrive in large numbers in NUS/NTU, and direct recruitment was also done from India/China;”

        That really pissed off many of the local undergraduates (me included). The justification for bringing in these people was that they were supposed to help improve the universities. That is of course nonsense because academic reputation is really based on research quality and not how many intelligent undergrads you have. I speak as someone who is in academia. Furthermore, these scholarships are reserved exclusively for the foreign undergrads. Hence, a local undergrad who is equally good in his academics can never get that sort of sponsorship with the same terms.

  6. 16 Fox 4 September 2010 at 06:39

    Alex,

    “A proportion of Permanent Residents eventually decide to apply for citizenship. I’m not able to find consistent data over many years as to the numbers involved, but a report in AsiaOne indicated that we will need about 20,000 new citizens each year to top up the shortfall in our birthrate.”

    I’m highly skeptical of this magic figure of 20,000. Let us look at the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for Singapore. The data is available here:

    http://www.singstat.gov.sg/stats/themes/people/popnindicators.pdf

    Basically, in 1980 and 1990, the TFR was around 1.80 which is not too far off from the 2.10 needed for replacement rates. So, in fact, based on birth rates needed for replacement, we were only 15 percent short per annum between 1980 and 1990. This translates to about 5000 to 8000 babies at most. So, at the moment, we’re probably short of around 50 to 80K citizens in the 20 to 30 age group. 20,000 citizens each year to top up this shortfall is overkill.

    • 17 prettyplace 8 September 2010 at 14:27

      Well said, Fox
      with figures.

      I think the govt should not be rushing in to introduce 20,000 new citizens each year. Its like trying to whore Singapore’s nationhood and identity.

      Why tamper with population again, didn’t they learn their lesson once before?
      Why the mad, desperate rush to make new citizens out of PRs?

      What we would need are talents & workers, be it work permit holders, S-pass or EP holders, thats all fine. If they are good enough or have started a family here, certainly provide them with a PR status. I am sure their children would want to stay put, if they find Singapore intresting enough and provided they find a Singaporean identity exclusive.

      The idea of the govt, should be to use this human resource for economic gains. Economic gains to enlarge the pie, for the govt, Singaporeans and the FTs.

      Why throw at them the pink ID?
      I can’t think of a reason for these foreigners, whatever pass they are holding on to leave Singapore immediately.
      They certainly would be here, making their share.

      At the rate the govt is going, its not making a Singapore passport holder exclusive at all. Albeit, we get good recognition overseas for our strict rules.

      Now, coming back to Citizenship. Why the rush, why can’t we assimilate PRs then give the pink IDs to them and their kids.

      Changing nationality is such a huge step in ones life, I can’t understand, why the PAP govt only places economic numbers to this grand feeling.

      I have only 1 answer. Votes.
      20,000 in 5years is 100K. It is a GRC. It is 20% of a GRC.
      PAP has already seen its drop in percentage, when fielded against good opposition candidates.
      If it continues, PAP loses.
      Who would want to lose a million dollar job?

  7. 18 Plumber 4 September 2010 at 07:55

    Alex, well written and analytical and I dont think both the govt and opposition have articulted the issue that well for whatever the reasons behind it.

    My sense is the S pass and employment pass and PR which is really like emloyment pass that create the unease. My son’s school has about 30% foreigners mostly on scholarship also cause some upset as none will serve NS after A level. I can understand if the first generation is an adult PR here on employment and hence has not benefited fronm Singapore but if foreigners are given scholarship from young, they are no different from Singaporean who enjoy the so call benifits for being a Singaporean so likewise should serve unless they are here paying market rate.

    • 19 prettyplace 8 September 2010 at 14:33

      This is of major concern.
      The idea of bringing in foreigners was not clearly thought out & planned at all.
      Only recently, they were tweaked, to show the difference between Singaporeans & PRs in terms of fees & cost.

  8. 20 Not so simple 4 September 2010 at 08:48

    With regards to Work Permit holders, I agree most if not all Singaporeans have no issue with this. If they have, ask them whether they wish to work in this category of jobs!

    With regards to S and E (Employment) Pass holders, I think we still need some to supplement our locals. How many is enough and not too many is the question. How to strike a balance?

    The govt manages the S & E Pass holders at the macro level. At macro level and over time they may not be sensitive enough to strike a balance and hence this resulted in problems ensuing at the micro level as reflected in those issues on the ground. And this also becomes a festering issue with time.

    This problem being totally human in nature cannot also be easily controlled, monitored and resolved like turning a knob on a machine to do the setting. Hence, despite the ground disquiet, you see the govt may not be seen as doing much to alleviate it because the issue is not as simple as it seems. Unlike a machine where you can control precisely what output you want just by turning knobs, pressing buttons or flipping switches.

  9. 21 thomas 4 September 2010 at 09:23

    @ LC
    it doesn’t help the conversation if you state unsubstantiated “facts” such as “Singaporeans are losing their jobs and being replaced by foreigners.”

    with an unemployment rate of approx. 3% (correct me if im wrong) it is obvious there are more than enough jobs to go around.

    back to the article, i more or less agree with alex. in general i think the govt has failed on two fronts; (1) failing to anticipate the need to expand housing and infrastructure with the increase in population and (2) relying on population growth to drive GDP growth when in the long term its unsustainable.

  10. 23 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 09:48

    LC wrote, 4 Sept, 01:48: “Singaporeans are losing their jobs and being replaced by foreigners. Or the job was never open to singaporeans in the first place. The evidence is overwhelming.”

    I see that Thomas has beat me to it. I too would ask: Where is the evidence? Prima facie, as Thomas has pointed out, the low unemployment rate points to the opposite.

    LC wrote, 4 Sept, 01:48: “Take a walk around Shenton Way or Suntec, go to the IT depts of the banks, local and foreign – where are the locals? Here, I give examples – Go to DSO, ST Engineering, A-star research centres, NUS, NTU, Starhub, Singtel – full of foreign staff.”

    You’re imagining that if the foreign staff were not there, Shenton Way and Suntec offices would still be busy, but filled with local bodies. I would argue that that is not the way to see it. If the foreign staff were not there, there’d be nobody there. We just do not have the numbers of locals to replace them.

    • 24 KT 4 September 2010 at 20:24

      ‘You’re imagining that if the foreign staff were not there, Shenton Way and Suntec offices would still be busy, but filled with local bodies. I would argue that that is not the way to see it. If the foreign staff were not there, there’d be nobody there. We just do not have the numbers of locals to replace them.’

      If foreign staff were not there, it’s true Shenton Way and Suntec may not be as busy. But that’s not a problem for local workers. In fact, it’s precisely what they want!

      Adding foreign workers could create more jobs for the locals. E.g. someone with some talent we don’t have comes here, and local staff are hired to support him/her. Without the FT, the jobs for the locals would not exist. That was more or less the case in the ’80s and ’90s. But it’s no longer the case now. Not only do foreign workers have no multiplier effect on the local job market, they compete directly with local workers. So how is a busy Shenton Way a good thing? In fact, when it’s so damn crowded everywhere, the locals have to bear social and environmental costs which GDP numbers don’t capture at all.

    • 25 prettyplace 8 September 2010 at 14:38

      There was a NTU prof, who did a study on local & foreign employment stats. He was shot down with an M-16,(figuratively,ok).

      Then came the reply, he did not have the required stats, and so it ended.

  11. 26 KT 4 September 2010 at 09:50

    Alex

    You seem to buy the PAP’s argument that a low birth rate is an economic problem, and it justifies the huge import of foreign labour. However, from the workers’ point of view, labour shortage is a very good thing because it increases their bargaining power with their employers. Higher bargaining power means workers (vs employers and the government) can take a bigger share of the GDP. So how is a low birth rate a bad thing, unless you’re an employer or cabinet minister whose remuneration is tied to GDP?

    As you’ve pointed out, GDP may go up but if the number of workers goes up as well, GDP per capita or wages may not. But isn’t creating more babies to boost GDP, on the supply side, the same as importing labour? The only difference is that babies start working some 20 years later whereas foreign workers do so immediately.

    How about a low birth rate depressing consumption? Is that a problem? Not in Singapore, because domestic consumption is not a significant part of the economy. The low birth rate in developed countries is actually a far bigger problem because they are Singapore’s major markets.

  12. 27 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 09:56

    LC wrote, 4 Sept 02:17: “I believe there is widepsread anger, and the PAP knows it very well. Their plan is just to push through the policy regardless. This has happened countless times. Remember the Casino Debate?”

    With hindsight we can indeed argue that the PAP read the ground very well in 2003/4 re casinos. Highly vocal Church-organised objections notwithstanding, they knew that a great number of Singaporeans would welcome these projects with open arms. Look at how profitable the casinos are!

  13. 28 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 10:09

    Plumber wrote, 4 Sept 07:55: “My son’s school has about 30% foreigners mostly on scholarship also cause some upset as none will serve NS after A level. I can understand if the first generation is an adult PR here on employment and hence has not benefited fronm Singapore but if foreigners are given scholarship from young, they are no different from Singaporean who enjoy the so call benifits for being a Singaporean so likewise should serve unless they are here paying market rate.”

    I assume these scholarships come with bonds.

    Recently, I have been toying with the idea that to address the equity issue, two categories need to do mandatory community service. The two categories would be
    (a) new citizens and
    (b) foreign scholarship beneficiaries who, soon after graduation, get PR.

    The latter should be doing mandatory community service in addition to serving out their bonds. The bonded period is for the scholarship; mandatory community service is for the PR status.

    The total hours in mandatory community service should be equivalent to the hours per year a reservist has to serve in-camp. Community service can take a variety of forms, based on the skill sets of the persons involved, from pro bono legal work, to teaching English to foreign workers on Work Permits, to helping out at hospital diagnostic labs.

    But then this raises another equity question: Why only males? What about female scholarship holders?

    And so, really, if we’re going to talk about equity, we should start by saying all female citizens too must do fulltime National Service, just like in Israel.

    Are we agreeable to the last idea? If not, then what do we mean by equity? How does one justify mandatory community service for new citizens and scholarship holders, without asking for conscription of female citizens?

    • 29 Fox 4 September 2010 at 12:05

      Actually, there is a far simpler solution if equity were the issue. This idea and variants of it have been floating around in the internet for some time and have been discussed by Mr Wang of the eponymous blog.

      One could simply propose an additional 2 percent NS tax on all residents (citizens AND PRs) who have not served NS. If you’re a female citizen, you pay up. If you’re a new citizen, you pay up. If you’re a PR, you pay up unless you’ve served NS, in which case, you should be paid. The additional revenue raised from the tax would then go to paying citizens/PR who have served and are still serving NS with payments pro-rated to time served.

      Knowing the PAP, this will probably remain a pipe dream.

  14. 30 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 10:14

    KT wrote, 4 Sept 09:50: “You seem to buy the PAP’s argument that a low birth rate is an economic problem, and it justifies the huge import of foreign labour. However, from the workers’ point of view, labour shortage is a very good thing because it increases their bargaining power with their employers. Higher bargaining power means workers (vs employers and the government) can take a bigger share of the GDP. ”

    I hope you’re not assuming that we’d still have the same GDP without all the foreign workers…. (and here I’d ask you which category for foreigners you’re referring to — you seem to be referring to all categories together).

    Even if your argument is that workers would still benefit if the GDP shrank proportionately, but workers have a bigger share of a smaller pie, I’d say be careful of oversimplifying the issue. A contracting economy (and a fast-contracting one, if we are ever to satisfy the anti-foreigner folks who want a quick reduction in foreigner numbers) is extremely destabilising and can go into a tailspin.

    • 31 KT 4 September 2010 at 11:20

      ‘A contracting economy (and a fast-contracting one, if we are ever to satisfy the anti-foreigner folks who want a quick reduction in foreigner numbers) is extremely destabilising and can go into a tailspin.’

      I’m sorry but that sounds like PAP scaremongering speak to me. It’s not untrue but a fast growing economy could be just as destabilizing as a fast contracting one. In fact, doesn’t importing massive amounts of foreign labour exaggerate the booms and therefore the busts as well, when said foreigners are exported? Massive immigration does not promote economic stability! Anything but!

      The market has inherent adjusting mechanisms. That’s especially true when labour has little bargaining power against employers and government policies, as is the case in Singapore. Why should there be an economic tailspin because of a low birth rate? How would the tailspin start and perpetuate? Has it happened before in developed countries with low birth rates? Even if it had (though I think it hasn’t), Singapore’s case is quite different. I.e. domestic consumption is relatively unimportant, and workers have no bargaining power against government policies.

      I don’t assume that we would have the same GDP without foreign workers (of all classes). My point is that I care about wages per head, not GDP. I thought that’s your point as well? I’m a bit confused!

  15. 32 Anonymous 4 September 2010 at 11:34

    Alex,in a country where the government has to clamp down on property bubble,before it actaully happens,no way the government can lose.

    To gauge PAP’s performance,just look at the prices of real estate prices here.

    But of course if you look at the big picture,PAP has lost a new generation in the net,that is about the future of Singapoore.

  16. 33 Willy 4 September 2010 at 11:46

    “The responses were not aligned with internet sentiment. Almost all the people I have spoken to on this subject didn’t have strong feelings about it. ”

    Ask the right people, with the right questions, and you can get whatever answer you are looking for.

    If PAP ask all their cronies what they feel about the FT, they probably get a ‘favorable’ answer too.

    As for what the alternative party should or should not do, I feel they do not have to come out with their plans now. Would it be in their interest to do so? For Singapore’s sake, state it now? Nah, the long term view of challenging PAP hegemony is more important, in my opinion.

    • 34 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 11:58

      What do you mean by “FT” ? Which category are you referring to? Which party do you mean by “the alternative party” in the singular?

      Indeed, on many issues, depending on whom one asks, one gets different answers. But just as you would not accept by this line of argument the answers of those whose views do not align with yours as the public consensus, others can argue that yours is not the consensus either, because different views can be found too.

      In any case, you’re missing the point of the article. The point is that the way to get some resolution of this problem is for both sides to be more precise with their concerns, supported by data, rather than take a machine-gun-everybody-who-doesn’t-agree-with-me approach.

      • 35 Willy 4 September 2010 at 16:15

        Hi,
        FT – S-Pass, Employment pass holders.
        Alternative party, parties – persons not aligned with the PAP regime, “deaf to criticism”, non-transparent, non-accountable creed.

        I quote:
        “And one more thing: I also feel our opposition parties should be clearer what ideas they have about this issue. It is not impressively responsible, in my view, to be standing on the sidelines egging the unhappy individuals on without themselves offering some coherent thoughts about a matter that is crucial to Singapore.”

        Thoughts have been offered, in my opinion, on many occasions by many parties including those people from the PAP. Resolution is not forthcoming from these people in power, why? If only raw data are made available, but we all know how ‘smoothed-over’ these data are, what-with the lumping citizenry with PRs.

        My point is, you started by saying the ‘sentiment’ on the ground is more in line with that of PAP, then you say that are people who are xenophobic and ‘anti-foreigner’, and then claim that oppositions are ‘egging individuals without offering coherent thoughts’, is not accurate or at least not fair to Singaporeans or the Oppositions.

      • 36 Willy 4 September 2010 at 16:21

        Hi again,
        Of course this is your blog. So you are entitled to your opinion, fair, accurate or otherwise.
        Cheers.

      • 37 prettyplace 8 September 2010 at 15:17

        I think people are dissatisfied.
        There is a divide, well at least from my circle.

        Economic issues especially. I won’t call them xenophobic.
        Most of them do realise the need for FWs, but some are just not happy with ordinary jobs being taken by S-pass & EP holders at lower wages.( details & data, I don’t have, but it is happening to an extend).

        Recently, a cab driver was so tense because, that job is being penetrated as well. Cabbies, I love them. Its a one-stop information center in any part of the world.

        Personally, I like Singapore to be cosmopolitan. The center of SEA and Asia, if possible. The place to be for arts, finance, business & what not. Buzzing with life and creative energy.
        But I would totally feel insecure if Fellow Singaporeans are not the same people I grew up with.

        I do not want a situation, when I am overseas I speak to someone and that person tells me that he or she is also Singaporean and I don’t feel the Singaporean in The Other.
        It will make me queasy.

  17. 38 Andrew Loh 4 September 2010 at 12:31

    Hi Alex,

    As always, a thought-provoking piece from you. I have only one question, since your article is premised on the argument that Singaporeans aren’t as concerned about the number of foreigners as we may think – and you base this on your interactions with some people you met.

    The question is: From which group or demographics of people were those whom you spoke to?

    Perhaps this has a bearing on the results of your “survey”?

    From my interactions, the people I spoke to indeed are concerned, although granted that they may not articulate their concerns in as detailed a fashion or as clearly as we may expect or hope for.

    Still, the sentiments are there.

  18. 39 Defennder 4 September 2010 at 14:08

    After thinking some more about whom is affected by the inflow of foreign workers, I think the answer you get depends on whom you ask. Ask a low skilled worker in his/her 40s, and you’re likely get a rant on how cheaper FTs have eroded wages. I’ve heard of some anecdotes such as:

    A welder used to be able to earn some $2500 (after adjusting for inflation and excluding overtime work) in the 1970s-1980s, nowadays one can barely get above $1500. I believe if you speak to local old folks (the type who work as cleaners and technicians), you’ll get a sense of how they’re specifically affected by the influx of low-skilled workers.

    One thing which I noticed was that by and large Singaporeans are a selfish and apathetic bunch who only oppose certain public policies only if it disadvantages them but not if they are unaffected. I have friends who are largely supportive of the PAP government but whom they think are fair and balanced because they have at times criticised certain policies. A common thing amongst policies which they opposed are those which they have witnessed and suffered from; low public transport arrival frequency, foreign workers taking up a more visible role in their workplace (without NS obligations), unaffordable high HDB flat prices (curiously once they’ve secured a flat, suddenly many of the same people are indifferent and even supportive of rising HDB prices).

    So the next time someone tells you they think that foreign worker policy is largely beneficial to Singapore and that they aren’t too concerned, take note of his/her social status, income group and line of work. Chances are that these people haven’t had much contact with FTs competing for their jobs, are already home-owners or are in many ways less affected by certain FT policies.

  19. 40 Sg Victim 4 September 2010 at 14:47

    I have had an interview in one of a Jap co in the west. It so happened the PA is a lady pinoy. During the interview, she was quite “blur” and not very professional in handling interviewee. However, the Jap male boss was clear what the interviewee was saying but the pinoy lady tried to influence her boss by cutting him off. Than she told me that if I am shortlisted, I am suppposed to multitask and take some of her job responsibilities. She further added that when recruiting candidate, she wanted to have more say because she wanted me to recruit more foreign S and EP passes instead of Sg candidates. Eventually I did not get the job and I know the reason. In my land where I once protected with half my life gone, I have a foreigner who have not contributed a single sweat in my country deprived me of my work here. I do not begrudge WP holders, they are crucial, but I hate S & EP holders and even PRs. They are truly fair weather workers that MOM and Immigration Dept dare not disclose their numbers thus the grievances started from this point.

  20. 41 rat 4 September 2010 at 16:24

    Dear Alex,

    a controversial article and a nice discussion here. That’s what I can see so rarely in Singapore. A shame, because only through debate and opposing opinions can we all get any wiser. The foreigner debate suffers the same fate, it’s either ranting bordering xenophobia or unreflected pro_PAP talk.

    I am a foreigner myself but came here 12 years ago when the situation was quite different. These days, even I feel alienated in this city that has grown too fast to 5 Mio people.

    I can never buy the argument of the low birth rate. What would the birth rate need to be to boost a country from 4 to 5 Mio people in 10 years? And who would want that anyway? Bollocks if you ask me. One of the underlying factors of fear of low birth rate is in my mind the Chinese angst that there will be too many other races, particularly Malays.

    I personally would prefer other means of boosting the economy than simply asking more MNC’s to setup business here (they love to come to this place as the rights for workers are abysmal and exploitation easy for them, nowhere in the world would you find such a pro business government) followed by more imports of foreign labor. What is the gain for the local population of such a policy? I fail to see it.

    Instead, how about raising productivity and cutting waste. You need examples? well: How about slowing the real wasteful ‘upgrading’ projects I see everywhere. How many times have I seen bus stop design changes, utterly wasteful and unnecessary. Replacing of concrete pavements when they look perfectly fine to me. last year I saw all lamp posts being replaces in my street by some more fancy design, was that really needed? And guess what, the people who work there are not Singaporean, maybe the boss might be.

    How about changes in lifestyle to make foreigners redundant. Let’s start with supermarket cashiers. Why do they need to scan and pack the stuff we buy when in other countries, the customer packs their own stuff and the whole process is so much faster, hence can save workers. Or an even better issue, cleaning you own trays and dishes so we don’t need a huge workforce to clean your garbage. Why do we need to employ a myriad of people to clean after our own litter? Don’t even get me started on maids. But I guess those changes would require people living here to give up a tiny bit of their comfort, but we would all benefit from it by relying less on dirt cheap labor.

    But if people including you Alex, see this as inevitable changes, where do you think we should stop then? Because 5 million people require even better infrastructure and more housing, hence even more foreigners to build and runt them, by the time this is done we have 6 million people and need even more of that. Where is the end?

    I do not think this is inevitable, we only need to make a conscious effort to say stop and live with what we have, keeping the population at the current level and trying to do something that everyone would benefit from. How come other first world economies such as Europe and Japan can do it without boosting their population? And their governments aren’t even paid anything close to our semi-gods here.

  21. 42 Plumber 4 September 2010 at 16:36

    Alex, serving bond with scholarship is not enough for young scholars brought in at sec one level. Serving just discharge the scholarship requirement. Even a Singaporean taking up a scholarship has to serve up his bond but still have to serve NS. Female can be exempted cause MINDEF has no such requirement but if local females do serve NS likewise they should serve.

    Its comparison of like with like.

  22. 43 mr.udders 4 September 2010 at 16:53

    They generally accepted that Singapore today cannot function without significant numbers of foreigners doing jobs ranging from the menial to the sophisticated. Without foreigners, our trash would go uncollected, our hospitals would grind to a halt, our bus frequencies reduced, and queues at retail check-out counters lengthen maybe twice as long.

    YB, of course they have accepted it: it has been ingrained into Singapore through the various Ideological State Apparatuses that foreigners are necessary, that they are doing the jobs that no one wants to do.

    That is BULLSHIT in my opinion!

    The only reason why foreigners are doing jobs that no one wants to do is because of:

    a. monetary reasons – pay not good enough.
    b. prestige value – everyone thinks these jobs are crap and
    c. systemic flaws caused by earlier governments – no ‘future’ in these jobs because earlier governments paid no heed to developing these sectors.

    I’m not a gambling animal, but I’ll bet my bottom dollar on the fact that Singaporeans will start taking up construction jobs, cleaning jobs, etc. the moment the next Singapore government:

    a. Sets a minimum wage for these jobs so that people can earn a decent income,
    b. Creates a national campaign to reinstate the importance/prestige value of such jobs so that people can at least DREAM about growing up to be e.g. a contractor,
    c. Instates proper educational qualifications and professional development channels so that people can OPT to take on these jobs with the knowledge that they might eventually get somewhere in life.

  23. 44 ILMA 4 September 2010 at 18:15

    Hi Alex,
    While your points are well received, there is a certain air of inevitability which you seem to be emphasizing, with regards to this migrants issue. This is where my views and yours significantly differ. I believe that we always have a choice. Let me elaborate further what I mean.

    1) Economic model. We always had and still have a choice, as to what sort of economic developmental model we should adopt. That has dramatic impact on the type of developmental outcomes, and in this case, the use and need for labor. We have been stuck in this input driven economic model, because we chose to stay in this mode. EDB’s consistent insistence on a foreign investment cum export driven model, has made us slave to foreign companies which merely cares about their internal pricing vis a vis other locations. As such every subsequent policy we have enacted has been designed to facilitate these companies’ operations, as opposed to Singapore citizens’ actual benefits. Rather than accept that this model will no longer work given Singapore’s present status as a true developed nation, we chose to continue this model of foreign investment chasing.

    Contrast Singapore’s model to that of Denmark or any of the Scandinavian countries. Denmark especially stands out, because it is similarly sized to Singapore in terms of population, while also being a highly open economy in terms of dependence on trade. It too was and still is experiencing low birth rates and rising income in the people. However, the Danish did not think of these as problems but rather used them as necessary conditions in designing their economy. It broadly expanded its internal domestic service market through government welfare expenditures, thereby alleviating dependence on exports. Furthermore it pushed hard into technology driven industries that relied less on labor costs. It is no wonder that Denmark is now one of the world leaders in alternative energy and agriculture industries, while EDB officers continue to beg at Danish companies’ doorsteps for investment in Singapore. But most importantly, Denmark’s success stems from its valuation of its own people, an acceptance that this IS the lot that they must work with for they are their own people! This is a huge departure from the instant-tree, Singapore-incorporated mentality that the PAP adopts.

    A similar argument could be made for Taiwan, South Korea and even Hong Kong, where this crucial acknowledgement of nationhood is honored and cherished. They too followed essentially the same input driven, export dependent economic model like Singapore in the early days. However they had modified their model to that of fostering domestic home grown companies, to achieve more sustainable economic performance in the long run, rather than Singapore’s eternal search for project inputs.

    2) Citizenship. As my earlier point on the economic model has already alluded, we always have a choice in how we view citizenship. Yes I agree with you that Singaporeans in general accept that in Singapore’s context, given the choices that the PAP has made (for them?), foreigners are inevitable in the economy. However this is where we must be clear. Are Singaporeans accepting that we need foreigners while secure in their own citizenship, or are they merely accepting their own fate while dreaming of dropping their citizenship?

    Let me illustrate this point with a true case. My friend, a true born and bred Singaporean, pursued his medical studies in Australia. Upon graduation he had genuine interest to return to Singapore to practice. He attended one of Singhealth’s recruitment drives in Australia where the issue of remuneration was discussed. He then understood that non-Singaporean doctors would be paid more than Singaporean doctors with the same qualifications, as they would be paid an additional housing allowance. My friend argued that his family was no longer living in Singapore but this was dismissed by Singhealth. It led to him inevitably feeling that he is being discriminated by Singapore, because ironically he still holds a Singaporean passport! My friend decided then, to stay in Australia to practice and hopefully attain his Australian citizenship first, before returning to Singapore.

    Ultimately my point is this. We always have a choice. If Singhealth was serious about increasing the number of doctors in Singapore, is mass recruitment of foreign doctors through incentives which are arguably discriminatory towards your own citizens, the right way to go? (imagine the uproar if H1B visa holders in the US commands higher remuneration packages than US citizens!) Could we have instead adopted more organic ways such as increasing the number of medical schools, or truly appealing to true citizens to return?

    We always have a choice.

    • 45 twasher 4 September 2010 at 21:08

      What ILMA said about housing allowance doesn’t apply only to doctors. Our local tertiary educational institutions and government research institutes have the same policy of giving housing allowances only to foreigners. If you’re Singaporean, even if you’ve lived overseas for the last decade and have no property in Singapore, you do not get a housing allowance. Also, if you’ve moving from overseas, you do not get a moving allowance either, while foreigners do. The lesson is: if you want to work in Singapore academia or research, you’re better off getting a foreign citizenship elsewhere before coming back. The red passport is a huge disadvantage.

      Note that this is happening in sectors (research and academia) in which Singapore claims that it is trying to expand. There are often complaints that there are not enough Singaporeans with PhDs blah blah, but they are alienating the few Singaporeans who do have PhDs.

      In contrast, China offers special academic grants to Chinese academics who return to China — grants which are not available to foreigners. They make special efforts to woo back homegrown talents, while Singapore goes out of its way to discriminate against them.

      My suspicion is that our economic model has placed so much emphasis on trying to woo foreigners, either to invest or to move here, that the idea of better utilising local resources has become alien.

      • 46 prettyplace 9 September 2010 at 00:46

        I am wondering, how Singaporeans are positioned in the world, in terms of talent, if such practices go on.

        Nice comment ILMA, enjoyed it.

  24. 47 Paul 4 September 2010 at 19:08

    I think that the WP holder issue also has important implications.

    It is simply whether we want to remain a third world nation or make it to the first world. In Europe, Japan and Australia, Construction work is highly paid and done by locals with a small number of guest workers who go on to citizenship. This has resulted in a high level of productivity and first world citizenry which accepts construction work as a decent, well paying livelihood. In third world countries including the Arab gulf states and Singapore, wages are kept low and the jobs are dangerous and low levels of productivity are achieved. This is what many of us would like to change…

    Of course together with the race to the bottom for all the other jobs as well

  25. 48 Tan Ah Kow 4 September 2010 at 19:42

    Whilst I could appreciate the “cacophony” of anti-foreigner voices on the net could indeed exhibit the sentiments you enumerated, I don’t think you can sliced and diced such voices into neat boxes like some reductionist pseudo-scientific analysis.

    As you have indicated, the impact of foreign is likely to be felt differently by different strata of the Singapore society. So clearly, you would expect a mixed of concerns bubbling up, don’t you?

    In pleading for clarity aren’t you guilty of trivialising a complex issue?

    For instance, can you say views expressed that are laced with anti-PAP sentiments are not valid. After all, the root cause could — in my opinion, definitely — well be PAP’s obsession with GDP growth for its own sake. It could be that the PAP has found itself in a position where it can’t fathom any alternative approach. So “anti-PAP” sentiments may have merits after all, albeit indirectly.

    Conversely, I am aware that you — and many of the let’s just say cosmopolitan strata — have often argued the merits of having a free flow migration policy. In a nutshell, this often amounts to vibrancies of the society. In articulating on the vibrancies ground, aren’t these argument just as emotional as those “anti-foreigner” ones?

    Even if you wish to achieved clarity by say focusing on “purely” economic argument, it is not clear cut is it? Should the argument be weighted in favour of the employers or the workers?

    Take one issue that I am have direct evidence — but may or may not be a majority held view — to supporting the current PAP migration policy. In the case I am referring to, which I shall keep vague, there is a company that have chosen to operate in Singapore because of the lax migration laws. The company like to operate out there because it can bring as many of foreign staff it wants (not necessarily talents per se). It hires virtually no locals but its earnings are also from abroad but transacted through Singapore.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not pointing this out of resentment but merely to served as a example of the complex issue. If I were to put my mind in the PAP mindset, having such companies in Singapore is a necessity to keep the GDP numbers up. The argument could be seen in cold economic calculations that if companies such as these based in Singapore, some value of the transactions will flow to the locals somehow. The foreign employees in that company will need to buy things in Singapore — i.e. add to consumption. As attracting foreign investment becomes tougher, it is a no-brainer issue isn’t it?

    But what about the other side of the argument — unemployed locals, who are virtually discriminated in this particular case?

  26. 49 Melbourne 4 September 2010 at 21:43

    @thomas/LC re unemployment:

    Unemployment statistics do not capture the entire picture. What type of jobs are being created? Do these jobs pay enough? What are the working conditions on offer? Do workers have sufficient bargaining power?

    Statistics are only as good as the methods used to derive them. The methodology used to compute the unemployment statistics has not been discussed here. It is not known whether certain categories of workers are excluded from these statistics. E.g. Workers who have permanently given up looking for jobs, or who have been job-hunting for more than a particular period.

    Another good example of such a “misleading” statistic is the CPI. Go and investigate how the housing component of the CPI is calculated. No way the increase in the true cost of living is just 2-3% per year.

    This is related to Alex’s point about transparency being needed from the Government.

    My point is that as long as there is no substantial pressure (social, legislative etc) being placed on them to provide this transparency (through e.g. a freedom of information act etc), it will simply not happen.

    A related point about unemployment and ridiculously high economic growth: inflation. Not many people know that Australia deliberately keeps unemployment at around 5% to control inflationary wage-price spirals.

    @Alex re:

    “I hope you’re not assuming that we’d still have the same GDP without all the foreign workers…. (and here I’d ask you which category for foreigners you’re referring to — you seem to be referring to all categories together).”

    ILMA has addressed this issue. Basically everything revolves around the fundamental structural problems with the economy.

    @KT re:

    “Why should there be an economic tailspin because of a low birth rate? How would the tailspin start and perpetuate? Has it happened before in developed countries with low birth rates?”

    Oh its not a problem if the country adapts to the changing demographics by creating jobs higher up the food chain… or by catering to a technological niche.

    On the other hand, if the country fails to adapt and is basically stuck using the same economic model since the 1970s…

    Our frantic last-minute attempts at the former are evident for all to see – Biopolis, the local video games industry. I think some people are finding out that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

    @Alex re:

    “The point is that the way to get some resolution of this problem is for both sides to be more precise with their concerns, supported by data, rather than take a machine-gun-everybody-who-doesn’t-agree-with-me approach.”

    I share your optimism, but I think dialogue only works when both sides are interested in coming to the table.

    http://www.straitstimes.com/BreakingNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_573004.html

    “Singapore MUST remain open but citizens come first”?

    Doesn’t sound like dialogue to me.

  27. 50 yawningbread 4 September 2010 at 22:55

    Good. I appreciate everyone trying to argue with me, because I can see your longish responses are getting meatier with detail.

    It seems to me (if I may shepherd the discussion a bit) that you’re now focussing on four things:

    1. re Employment Pass, the laissez-faire situation has led to instances where there may be active discrimination against Singaporeans. If so, this is wrong. So what people need to do is to get organised to demand (a) transparency from both govt and companies and if necessary (b) a law banning discrimination in employment.

    2. There seems to great opacity about scholarships and terms. Again, get organised to demand transparency, but people also need to work out what ratio to be offered to locals and what ratio to foreigners (I suspect there is no consensus here either).

    3. There’s a discussion about the economic model. What exactly is the new economic model, what will it take and how long, to get there?

    4. There’s a sense that cheap Work Permit labour is unhealthy. What kind of wage levels will be needed to get Singaporeans to do construction and sanitation work? $5,000 a month for the former and $2,500 for the latter? How will that feed through to costs in general? Or should we still rely on imported labour but invest in mechanisation at the same time?

    This is exactly how I wish to see the debate evolve. Get more specific so that there are ideas to engage with government with.

    • 51 Ponder Stibbons 4 September 2010 at 23:53

      On discrimination against locals with respect to remuneration, I’ve been collecting a list of instances here:
      http://receptacle.wikidot.com/discriminatory-remuneration

      I would welcome more pointers to such discriminatory job ads.

    • 52 KiWeTO 5 September 2010 at 00:27

      Germany, 1996.

      Aldi – the low priced budget supermarket chain.
      Size – 5000 sq feet.

      Number of staff at peak operating hours – 3.
      Jobs the 3 staff do during peak hours:
      1. Restock shelves (using technology, and efficient work processes, it is very easy for this particular chain to do that bit of work.)
      2. Ring up sales at the cash register.
      3. Drive the expensive asset cleaning machine around the aisles.
      4. all sorts of other things that keep a supermarket humming along, including receiving stock at the loading bay.

      What wages were they paid? Not sure. Did they look non-German? No.

      Sure, this is the low-cost approach to supermarket retailing. But it left a very strong impression. Sensible work practices, use of effective technology, and respectful customers means such an organization can (and probably) does pay these 3 staff more individually than the equivalent 10 staff might do in NTUC here.

      Does this mean that if such a similar system was implemented here, we would end up having 7 unemployed staff? If you see these as un-reallocatable-economically labour, then yes, you have an unemployment problem. If you see this as freeing up labour to partake in other economic activities, what we have here is positive growth in GDP per capita, since the 3 employed workers will have better wages to consume with. (presumption is that the economy will come up with new businesses to employ the 7 others; if we do not have such a presumption, then all jobs must be protected and no progress allowed on “economic productivity”. Which situation is preferable?)

      By investing (apparently) more in foreign talent across all sorts of economic strata, what we now have is locals facing difficulty upgrading their economic strata. a polytechnic friend from Malaysia signed a 3 year bond to work with a SG company after graduation. At graduation, he deferred the bond to continue studies in the UK for a further 6 years. Upon returning to SG, he was unable to secure employment, and now works back in Malaysia. Bond? never ‘served’. Is that how we would like to see our budget surplus spent? Did this person then not possibly deprive a local (or even another foreigner) from a place at the polytechnic, and then 3 years of taxable income working in Singapore?

      It is anecdotes like these that raise the ire of those who are Singaporeans. More so if they have had to give up 2 or more years serving NS, and then see all sorts of foreigners go to school alongside them, NOT serve NS and thus start working in the economy 2 years ahead, and then, seeing them convert to PRship or even citizenship. Is that fair and equitable?

      And no way 9000, in whatever tranches, from left pocket to right pocket (by printing more S$), will ever be seen as sufficient recompense to those who served. Why not just turn around and pay NSmen a proper ‘salary’ commensurate with their fellow enlistees who sign on as professional soldiers? Go to the extent of even taxing it as income to put money back into the other pocket again.

      Afterall, when in training, they do exactly the same thing, but are paid a lot less than their “employed” equivalents. This would then enable our maturing boys to become men who, upon the end of NS, have hopefully saved some money towards further study, or well, start building the retirement nest egg earlier. Hopefully, invested wisely, or even consumed needlessly (which still drives our GDP uprwards!).

      What do those financial advisers love to say? start saving young?

      Yes, NS would be still be seen as compulsory, and maybe even a yoke, but at least, by recognizing their 2 years of service with proper ‘equivalent’ pay would go a lot towards relieving the ill will many who have served NS have towards that need to serve.

      At the end of the day, the need to be recognized in any society (chiefly, measured through income) is important. And paying our conscripts poor wages do not encourage them to see their service as important to the nation.

      WHat is the financial impact on MINDEF’s budget if such a thing was implemented? Since I have no current figures, I can’t really tell. But I would see this as a kinder-to-locals way of spending government surpluses than giving it away to foreigners.

      Yes, the economy is complex and nuanced, but as ILMA alluded to in the Denmark example – just how does this PAP-led government see its own people?

      Battery-farmed Geese that lays eggs every day for the government’s consumption, or fellow members of a society that contribute to its progress?

      Its not about entitlement just because we have a pink IC. It is about respecting what those who also carried a green ID card have done, and have policies that do not end up discriminating them against S-pass/Employment pass holders.

      E.o.M.
      [As an employer, having employees go away for ICTs every year is very disruptive to any organization. Given the option, and that these pass-holders are also “cheaper”, why do local males face the double whammy of negative factors in competing for employment? Would not specialized tax rebates based on ICT days lost be a better way to equalize the ‘cost’ of local vs foreign?]
      [ICT serving men are paid their equivalent real-world employment wages. Why then the discrepancy against NSF conscripts? Just because they can be economically ‘abused’?]

      • 53 Melbourne 5 September 2010 at 01:26

        If you’ve ever seen the Aldi system you’ll be amazed.

        It takes only 4 guys to run one of the busiest supermarkets in the CBD.

        – Investment in technology: These guys drive flatbed trolleys (the type you see in warehouses) straight out of the loading bays to the shelves. Compare that to the guys at NTUC using supermarket trolleys or carrying goods by hand. Cleaning is done with hoover machines (the type you see on the streets).

        – Efficient business processes: On-the-fly reallocation of labor. If the counters are filling up, the manager makes an announcement and gets some staff members to handle the load. Crew members shut down their aisles if they see they’re not needed. No idle cashiers hanging around doing nothing. Customers bag their own items, reducing turnaround time.

        – Customization: They mandate that barcodes on all items from their suppliers are placed on the bottom for efficient scanning. The cashier simply slides the item through – they don’t even bother to look at it. No need to waste time searching for the barcode.

    • 54 ILMA 5 September 2010 at 04:53

      Hi Alex and all,
      With all due respect, I am beyond debating the government. I was a former civil servant, and I have written countless papers, elaborating all these issues. They have fallen on deaf ears, because the greater government organization is beyond reproach. It is a system that believes too much in its own perceived perfection. It is really quite a helpless situation. I am sorry to despair but I really see no way out.

  28. 55 Fox 5 September 2010 at 00:52

    About the casino debate: When the idea of setting casinos was put up some years ago, not everyone on the net was against it. I think it was pretty evenly split amongst the ayes and the nays. There were pretty convincing argument either ways. Of course, the debate was largely theoretical because we’ve never had casinos in Singapore before. I don’t think we have much of a debate over the casinos now.

    In contrast, whenever the issue of foreign talent comes up, the sentiments against it are overwhelming negative on the internet. It’s become more and more so over the years. Back in the days of Sintercom, circa late 90s to 2001, it wasn’t even much of an issue and most people were more evenly divided on it. After having experienced the looser FT policy in the past few years, many more Singaporeans are against it. This is not to say that the majority of Singaporeans are against the FT policy (because I have no way to measure it objectively) but my point is that the opposition to the casinos is very much a different beast to the opposition to the FT policy.

  29. 56 defennder 5 September 2010 at 00:59

    Here’s a recent letter to TR which illustrates how WP holders harm low skilled local workers.
    http://www.temasekreview.com/2010/09/04/management-to-singaporean-accept-lower-pay-or-we-hire-chinese-nationals/

    As for the question of how high should wages be for low skilled jobs, I think it would be helpful to check how much most other countries, which have a foreign composition much lower than 36% pay their workers. The average EU foreign born population in the EU is about 6.4%, for the US I read some where it’s about 16% or less, and Japan somehow makes do with <2% foreigners. Is it necessary to jack up foreign worker supply so much just for costs to decrease significantly? Doesn't anyone realise that cheap construction costs would artificially drive up real estate speculation?

  30. 57 Anonymous 5 September 2010 at 05:39

    But we either believe in democracy or we do not. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from any democratic process, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed. …

    If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, inconvenience to traffic, or inconvenience to police officers, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right. …

    my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul de sac…

    Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle dusters.

    If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society.”

  31. 58 Robox 6 September 2010 at 00:38

    My concerns over the ‘FT’ issue is a maccroeconomic one. if we recall, the rationale for this policy when it was first mooted was:

    1. Singapore had priced itself out of the market, which is itself a result of mismanagement of past wage policy; and,

    2. With India’s and China’s rise, cost competitiveness, and equally (oe better) qualified citizens, FDIs were going to give Singapore a miss.

    Costs had to come down so that Singapore could remain competitive.

    Yet, the manner in which this policy has been managed has resulted in costs still rising, defeating the very purpose of the policy in the first place. Neither was this an unanticipated outcome because economics theory could have easily explained, and predicted it.

    But I must add that that was to have been the job of the PAP government who knew just how many people they were allowing in and how fast. Their critics, myself included, are only able to explain the flaws in the policy using economic theory only after some of the releveant information had been released.

  32. 59 Tired 6 September 2010 at 01:45

    Alex

    Getting engaged with the government on specific problems raised by readers above may not be viable because the other side of the ears are shut on us for years. When the truth hurts, monies are thrown to close case and move on. This is just one issue amidst so many issues with similar style of resolving problems (half-heartedly). How many years have passed without Labour Union doing anything to address these problems. I am sure the chief labour union has had heard enough from us whether through their members, grassroots, residents and his colleagues. Must we repeat ourselves again over the same old problems so deep rooted now? The hate and high anti-foreigner sentiments are just an accumulated grief patiently waited to erupt until it crossed the limit beyond repair. Whatever reasoning now may no longer be an option but to vote PAP out.

    It is only when election is looming near that PAP began to show some “understanding” for the citizens. Based on past trends of “empty promises” after election, I will not buy into their “kindness” again. It is a disaster witnessed since the last election.

    Frankly, Singaporeans do not mind drawing low salary (with regard to business bottom line cost issue) on condition that our cost of livings have fallen so that every cents we earned, we can saved for retirments. It is not possible for Singaporeans but possible for foreigners. Being a worker is like doing business, if we do not profit in the form of savings after deducting all expenses paid to the govt including our 20% paid to CPF, than I rather work for charity for free. I am sure foreigners have calculated their share of the pie before they come here to work. Every cents they earned, is twice the amount they saved for retriement in their homeland. We do not have this priviledges. Whose fault?

  33. 60 Nadia 6 September 2010 at 05:59

    I feel my gripe with this issue deals with the fact that most of the lowly skilled foreign workers that we come in contact with in our daily lives tend to speak very little English. I find it hard understanding most of them since they hardly speak the language, yet they are hired in service sectors like driving buses, working in the food industry and in sales. It’s to my understanding that most have to pass an English test before being hired? (I’m not actually certain of the details regarding this process) Yet, most are unable to communicate in English. While I understand the government’s position on foreign workers completely (after all aren’t there hoards of Singaporeans living and working all over the world?), I think the standards should be raised on exactly who gets in to Singapore. Shouldn’t we be protecting our image of Singapore as an English speaking nation and a comprehensible society that is “gracious”? By simply commuting on the bus, I feel that most of the foreign workers I encounter daily are tarnishing our good name (even if we had a good one to begin with)and giving tourists and visitors a really bad impression of what Singapore is like.

  34. 61 hahaha 6 September 2010 at 11:50

    Jobs that no one wants to do?
    In Australia, plumbers, rubbish collectors, electricians, carpenters, construction workers, menial workers are in high demand and respected because it is a honest way of living and with work life balance! And the fact is, they pay well and have proper safety standards to go with it.
    We need to start comparing ourselves with developed nations, rather than our immediate neighbours, China or India. We will always be better if we use low benchmarks.
    Look what real democracy brings to Australia.
    Okay, there is still some form of discrmination there but we have ours too.
    My point is really, yes, we need foreigners as with all growing cities, but we need to start changing the working environment, stigma and attitudes towards non academic jobs, so that we have Singaporeans willing to participate and contribute back to the workforce, increase their income, improve their lives, have better social attitudes, and overall a better quality of life. This is what I call a HOLISTIC solution.

  35. 62 Slow 6 September 2010 at 11:53

    My sense is that the antagonism is more towards the foreign workers and it is being taken out against the PRs and new citizens. A lot of the PRs and new citizens, particularly the younger ones, quickly blend in and become invisible.

    The racial ratios make it easy for specific desired visible ethnic groups to gain entry but makes it difficult for well-qualified members of other ethnicities. To reduce this, perhaps we should look at increasing the category of ‘Others’ since the hostility towards them is currently low. Perhaps more Africans and Latin Americans and less northern Chinese?

    Another possibility would be to favour southern Chinese over northerners. Southern Chinese are practically invisible after they arrive. However, I don’t think it can apply to the Indian PRs & immigrants – local culture is way too different from Tamil Nadu. Perhaps Kerala?

  36. 63 anony 6 September 2010 at 13:02

    The low birthrates is due to the fact that the PAP is very half hearted in giving subsidies & bonuses to the same extent as those given in France & Scandinavian countries. If you really mean upping the birth rates, then go all the hog, do not do it in half measures as they always do. Just like giving a bonus to NS men in the same fashion as giving subsidies & bonuses to increase birth rates, its like rewarding your dog for good behaviour:

    here doggy, doggy, here is some food, do some tricks & you will get it.

    here doggy, doggy, good boy, you performed the handshake, here is some morsel of food, now let’s see what else you can do.

    That is how I envisage PAP so called broad vision of dishing out bonuses to get what they want, perform some tricks for them & you will be rewarded.

    My beef with immigration is with ALL groups of foreigners:

    1. Work permit holders – all this talk about upping productivity is still not working. Do you know that in Japan, a 2 storey house can be built in one day with prefab materials. I saw this documented on a blog & was superbly amazed. Now, this then, is what is called productivity in Japan. How many China nationals do you need in Spore for a coffeshop or mom & pop shop? Have you seen what they can do in Japan, their mom & pop noodle shop have a vending machine for you to pay for your meals first, hygiene here as the food handlers do not need to handle dollar notes, then you pass the ticket to the food handler who then servez your meal. Better still, in some Jap noodle shops, you sit in front of a curtain hiding a cubicle where your food will pass thru when its ready, this way, no waiters need be hired, when you are done eating, you shove your bowl & utensils back into the cubicle. Cost savings for labor indeed! Do you even see this happening in Spore? No.
    Also at our local Fairprice stores since its gahment owned, I will use this as an example, why are they not using self check out machines instead like in USA & Europe. They should implement it by giving at least 10% to 20% discounts for your entire purchase to encourage shoppers to do their own self check out & payment at one go. With a monetary discount, they get recoup it easily once shoppers get used to it and they can do away with the cashiers. Fairprice employs China nationals as cashiers now if you had not noticed.

    2. Employment pass holders – MNCs are taking full liberty of this liberal policy to employ as many of their own nationals as they can so that Spore citizens are more or less the minorities in industries like IT, engineering, semiconductors & banking. Swiss, French & German MNCs are exploiting it to the fullest by filling their top to middle ranks with their own nationals. It deprives midcareer professionals a chance for these positions. Also, the Swiss, French & German would never allow such a practice in their own countries becos their national employment laws forbid them to do so.

    3. PRs – China & Indian nationals have no intention of making Spore a permanent home. The rule of thumb is only to make one member of the family a Spore citizen, the rest remain status quo. It makes a mockery of our Spore citizenship program. Their sole interest is to monetize the sale of HDB flat then get lost from Spore to buy their nest eggs in their own lands.

  37. 64 Kukumalu 6 September 2010 at 13:34

    Please kindly update the chart.

    I know of PR who GOT SG CITIZENSHIP, and then GOT PR in AUSTRALIA.

    You can guess where they will eventually settle down.

  38. 65 T 6 September 2010 at 15:50

    /// yuen 5 September 2010 at 17:30
    not quite true; male citizens in NUS/NTU are two years older than female ones and about same age or slightly older than foreign scholars ///

    This is also not true. The bulk of the scholarships are given based on the performance at JC level and the “A” level results. The shortlisting and award of scholarships are done before the boys go for NS. This is where the foreigner’s maturity due to age advantage comes into play.

    • 66 yuen 6 September 2010 at 16:03

      T 5 September 2010 at 14:19

      My pet peeve is that most of those foreign students given scholarships are older than our own students, usually one or two years older. The point is that a 2-year gap is a tremendous advantage, given that students of that age are maturing fast. It is like getting our middleweight boxers to fight with heavymeights.
      Reply

      *
      7 yuen 5 September 2010 at 17:30

      not quite true; male citizens in NUS/NTU are two years older than females
      ————————-
      so you are referring to foreign students in JC competing with local students for scholarships; I think such foreign scholars are very small in no.

      the large no. are those given scholarships while still in their own countries, then come here to attend NUS/NTU; these are the ones causing resentment among their classmates; among these, the local men are older, the girls younger, than the foreigners

      • 67 T 6 September 2010 at 17:53

        Yes, last year we even gave a President Scholarship to a girl from China who was 2 years older than her Singapore counterparts. Though few in numbers, these top scholarships recipients will be set for life and be part of the nomenklatura once they graduate. And we short-change our own kind in the process.

      • 68 yuen 6 September 2010 at 21:15

        cases like this are more like those ping pong players – maybe there were local kids who could have been groomed (starting from young age) into equally good sportsmen, but we do not know; in general, reaction to the sportsmen cases was mixed though probably more towards acceptance (again, we do not know)

      • 69 T 7 September 2010 at 13:51

        My grouse is also against the unfair competition in our schools. The proportion of foreign students is about 20% to 25% of each cohort. With a two-year maturity advantage, our own students are pitted against those who are mentally more developed and having more time to prepare themselves.

        Now they are investigating whether the Bolivian football team fielded some players who are older than 15 years for the under-14 team. And yet we subject our students to such inequities.

  39. 70 T 8 September 2010 at 12:20

    You take up a stand without even understanding the entire picture?

    It was never about immigration or accepting the need for foreign workers.

    It is about uncontrolled & unbridled immigration to artificially prop up the GDP numbers.

    You disappoint me with the level of intellect that went into this particular post.

  40. 71 Bullcrap 8 September 2010 at 13:30

    Alex!

    I would attribute that to the power of a PAP controlled media. The people you asked have been so completely brain washed by the MSM.

    • 72 Anonymous 9 September 2010 at 08:59

      Interesting revealation of a P.R.

      KiwiLad
      Guest
      Re: Singapore to Expel 10% of Permanent Residents
      « Reply #27 on: 08 September 2010, 10:12:16 am » Quote

      ——————————————————————————–
      Yes, here is my take as a Singapore PR from a western country.

      If they made Singapore citizenship more attractive , i.e allow dual citizenship, I would take it up.

      If they force me to give up my existing citizenship, I would simply leave and go off to one of the many other countries of the world that welcome English speaking highly paid professionals.

      Why wouldnt I give up my existing citizenship? Well most importantly there are the emotional reasons of loyalty to my country and my ancestors who fought for it.

      And there are of course the pragmatic reasons. The piece of paper called a western passport is not just a travel document that opens doors around the world but is also a medical insurance policy, giving me free health care in my homeland if I choose to take it, a social welfare card giving me access to varous social welfare benefits, a pension plan for when I am old, and an education subsidy for my children giving them the right to study in Universities back home (and in our friendly neighbour) at a highly subsidised rate.

      If Singapore Inc thinks that any rational human being would give all that up for a Singapore passport, they need to tweak their grip on reality very fast.

  41. 73 yuen 8 September 2010 at 14:46

    more about immigration: GCT has started a new line of discussion with his idea of inviting PRs to become citizens, and those who decline might find their PR “not renewed”.

    Actually, unlike EP which has a fixed duration and need to be renewed at expiry, PR has no expiry date; what you do need to renew is the Re-entry Permit, allowing you to leave Singapore without losing PR; theoretically, if you do not travel, then you dont need to renew your PR status

    I also point out an obscure point therein: when you go to renew your re-entry permit, you have to bring a company letter certifying your employment. It would appear (a) if you lose your job, you cant renew the permit, and after it expires, wont be able to travel without losing PR (b) retirees need some alternative processing, since they cant present any employment certification; however, I havnt been able to find official information on the web on these issues

  42. 74 Digress 8 September 2010 at 14:47

    Let me digress a little but with reason from another perspective. If 1.5mil of the foreigners (PR, New citizen, EP, S or whoever foreigners who have contributed to our high GDP and “spur” Singapore ahead) but make up 70% of anti-gay group(of people you know who). They may eventually influence the govt to mete out policies not in favour of the minority.eg keeping 377A or others, will your view still stand in favour of added populations with such side effect?

  43. 75 Doris 22 April 2011 at 16:52

    “IM Flash Singapore employs 1,200 workers, of which six in 10 are Singaporeans and permanent residents, while four in 10 are foreigners.” as quoted in Today’s News…

    PR status was easily gotten during the last 3-6 years of importing foreign talents policy. Some of whom are from neighbouring countries who are not at all conversant in English nor Chinese, or both and were granted PR status in a few months and citizenship in a year or two.

    And now, that made up the numbers of “6 in 10 are Singaporeans and PRs” in a large MNC; let say 3 are PRs and the other “4 in 10″ are foreigners. Simple math is 3+4=7.

    Isn’t that obvious that jobs creation favour foreigners than locally bred Singaporeans?

    And some of these foreign talents will retire in their own countries for cheaper living standards during their retirement ages or earlier. Some of them will likely sell their HDB flats or private properties to cash out for the capital’s appreciation in the next 10-15 years of time. So, guess who will be funding these capital’s gain by then…?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s





%d bloggers like this: