SINGAPORE - Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) on Thursday called for Singaporeans to be given a chance to take on leadership roles in large local companies, so as to develop local talent who can replace foreigners in key positions.
Mr Low made the call when he spoke on the third day of the Budget debate today.
"Currently at some large companies, because of our foreign talent policy, it seems that many heads of department or senior management are all foreigners, whereas Singaporeans are merely middle managers," he said in Mandarin.
"Many sandwiched-class Singaporeans feel that they should have the opportunity to go up further but they can't do anything about the situation. If this situation continues, it will become a time bomb and will be a major threat to Singapore's future development," he added.
"When Singaporeans can't even be the leaders in their own country's companies, to a certain extent, it means Singapore has lost a leadership role and we will not be able to develop the younger generation to take over and become leaders in various domains."
Mr Low nevertheless made clear that he supported the direction set by this year's Budget, particularly schemes to develop local talent like the creation of SkillsFuture accounts with an initial credit of $500 for every Singaporean aged 25 and above to use on approved courses.
Mr Low said a major challenge facing Singapore is to make sure its citizens play major roles in the workplace, not just supporting roles.
He also named two other challenges Singapore faces to its future development.
First, Singapore cannot be overly reliant on foreign manpower.
Hence he welcomed the current strategy of economic transformation and increasing productivity as a path to maintaining the country's long-term interests.
Second, the widening gap between the rich and the poor must be mitigated.
Society will be divided if the Government does not help those who are left behind by economic growth, he said.
This is why Mr Low felt Silver Support, a new permanent scheme which will give lower-income senior citizens aged 65 and above some cash to help with their daily expenses, is necessary.
Speaking after him, Workers' Party MP Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) also voiced support for the Government's "formalisation of skills upgrading" as a priority in this year's Budget.
This would help change employers' mindsets, some of whom are reluctant to let workers go for training due to the disruption to operations, she said.
Ms Lee welcomed the Government's intention to subsidise course fees for those aged 40 and above by at least 90 per cent, and called for the age floor for this subsidy to be lowered to 35. This is the age where many, especially women who have become mothers, look to switch careers, she noted.