The key issues

Foreign worker numbers likely to be a hot topic

There were some 1.6 million foreigners in Singapore last year, making up about 29.3 per cent of the 5.47-million population.
There were some 1.6 million foreigners in Singapore last year, making up about 29.3 per cent of the 5.47-million population. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Opposition parties blame foreigners for competition for jobs, places in good schools, crowding in public transport

Immigration and the large number of foreign workers are likely to be among the hottest topics the opposition parties will raise during the nine days of election campaigning that started yesterday.

The ruling People's Action Party's policies on immigration will be scrutinised and criticised by opposition parties looking to capitalise on the anti-foreigner sentiment in Singapore, said analysts.

This is because the issue of immigration "is most visible and directly experienced by Singaporeans", said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

There were some 1.6 million foreigners in Singapore last year, making up about 29.3 per cent of the 5.47-million population.

Many opposition parties blamed this large contingent of foreign workers for taking away jobs from Singaporeans, raising competition for places in good schools and the overcrowded public transport system.

Among the most vocal of the parties is SingFirst, whose secretary- general Tan Jee Say said at a press conference last week that the influx of foreigners is "a very sad thing".

SingFirst wants to "take back our country from the Government that has given the country away to foreigners", he said. The party did not have firm plans on how it wants to do this, nor did it have a manifesto to elaborate on solutions.

The Workers' Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) took a more measured approach, calling for policies to be tweaked, and offered alternative policies.

The WP, for instance, said that it is not "anti-immigration or anti-immigrant" but instead wants to strengthen the Singapore core by raising birth rates.

It proposed a zero-growth strategy in foreign workers if the local resident labour force can grow by 1 per cent every year.

It also wants to introduce a 10-year through-train programme for schoolchildren from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 so as to remove the focus on big examinations.

The SDP, in its manifesto, blames the immigration policy for having led to massive overcrowding in Singapore, which in turn has caused property prices to escalate and COE prices to skyrocket.

To prevent the foreign worker contingent from growing, the SDP wants all foreign workers to be assessed based on a point system and put into a pool.

Only those short-listed for this pool can be hired by firms, which also have to prove that local workers do not have the skills these foreign workers have.

Other parties are saving their ammunition for issues relating to CPF, housing and building a stronger social welfare net.

The Reform Party is gunning for more transparency in the way the CPF funds are used.

It also wants to give an old-age pension to older Singaporeans and a fixed monthly child-benefit cash grant for all children under the age of 16 years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 02, 2015, with the headline 'Foreign worker numbers likely to be a hot topic'. Print Edition | Subscribe