The purpose of bringing in the right number of foreign workers, with the right types of skills, is to benefit Singaporeans, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing asserted in Parliament yesterday, addressing the hot-button issue of foreign talent.
Stressing that the Government put Singaporeans at the heart of its policies, he also sought to allay concerns about foreigners taking away better-paying jobs from locals, especially in the current climate of economic uncertainties.
In his detailed response to two MPs, he assured Singaporeans the Government understands their worries. "We will walk this journey together with you. This Government will always have your back," he said.
"The Government is on the side of Singaporeans. We will grow our economy and attract investments to create more good jobs for Singaporeans," he added, pledging to devote resources to enable Singaporeans to acquire the skills they need to stay competitive.
He went on to give an insight into the trade-offs involved as the Government attracts investments and seeks to create better-paying jobs for Singaporeans.
Some of these are in areas where there may not be enough Singaporeans with skills to match the jobs being created.
He asked if Singapore should reject investments that would bring in more foreigners, including some who would earn more than Singaporeans working in the same company. "Should we reject investments like Google, Grab and Facebook?" he asked.
Singapore cannot do this because such investments create higher-paying jobs for Singaporeans as well as for their children.
To drive home his point, he gave the illustration of a new investment creating two new jobs - one paying $7,000, and the other $10,000.
A Singaporean, who is earning $5,000 today, can get only the $7,000 job because he "does not yet have the skills or experience" for the $10,000 job.
While the Singaporean may feel he is being unequally treated, not accepting the investment will mean both the $7,000 and $10,000 jobs disappearing, he said.
He said while most Singaporeans accept this, what they want is a fair chance to get that higher-paying job, and what they oppose are practices that see them unfairly passed over. "The Government understands these concerns, and we stand together with fellow Singaporeans on this matter," he said.
That is why the Manpower Ministry is continually updating the Fair Consideration Framework to ensure a fair, level playing field for Singaporeans, he added.
The companies are also expected to train and groom Singaporeans. Most "play ball" because it makes business sense for them to localise, among other things, he said.
Mr Chan pointed out that local employment increased by nearly 60,000 between 2015 and 2018. The professionals, managers, executives and technicians' share of local employment during this period went up three points to 57 per cent, a proportion that is among the highest in the world, he added.
Real average monthly earnings for employed locals grew 3.2 per cent yearly during this period, higher than the 2.4 per cent per annum in the previous three years, he said. It was also higher than most advanced economies such as the United States (0.5 per cent), Japan (0.8 per cent) and Germany (1.2 per cent).
Singapore must strive for what he called the "Goldilocks balance" in hiring foreigners.
"We cannot open the floodgates and drown Singaporeans. But neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce.
"Above all, we must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context. That is not the kind of politics we want," said Mr Chan.