Chee Hong Tat clashes with WP chief Pritam Singh over employment data

Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat (left) rebutted a Facebook post by Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh. PHOTOS: ENTERPRISE SINGAPORE, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat on Wednesday night (Jan 8) rebutted a Facebook post by Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh, in a continuing argument over employment data that began in Parliament on Monday (Jan 6).

He said the data Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad gave in Parliament on employment growth in 23 key industries was comprehensive and clear.

"I am puzzled why Mr Singh failed to acknowledge these statistics in his Facebook post," he added in his own post.

Mr Singh, in his post on Tuesday, said the Government does not classify Singaporeans as a standalone category. "PRs are also included, collectively categorised with Singaporeans as 'locals'," he pointed out.

This classification makes it difficult to consider the problems Singaporeans face and the policy options to boost their career prospects, he added.

The WP's MPs will hence file questions to get the data that is now unavailable or "not given in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing".

Mr Chee, however, argued that what matters most are the outcomes for workers.

The Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry stressed that most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality.

But results on this front have been encouraging, with Singapore remaining globally competitive in attracting investments, and wages of Singaporean workers are going up, among other things, he added.

"Let us not go down the path of other economies which are struggling with the politics of division and envy."


Mr Chee's remarks come after an exchange in Parliament between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Mr Singh on Monday .

Mr Singh had asked for a breakdown of the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which are blueprints that map out how 23 key industries in Singapore should transform themselves for the future.

These were launched progressively from late 2016, with the majority launched in 2018.

Mr Singh had also asked whether the Government would in future, on its own accord or in response to parliamentary questions, provide more employment data that offers a breakdown of jobs that had gone to Singaporeans and permanent residents.

For instance, he asked if such a breakdown was available when it came to data on the increase in local employment for the whole economy between 2015 and 2018.

Mr Chan replied that he did not think the Government has "anything to hide". But he questioned Mr Singh's intentions behind the questions.

Stressing that the Government has done right by Singaporeans when it comes to its foreign worker and employment policy, Mr Chan said local unemployment has not increased as a result of its economic policies. Wages are also going up, and at a rate that is faster than many other countries, he added.

"I'm always very cautious about this constant divide - the Singaporean vs PR, the insinuation seems to be that somehow the Singaporeans are not benefiting... It's not the data, it is the point of the question.

"And I'd like to remind this House the ultimate competition is not between the Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about team Singapore comprising of Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce... competing to give the Singaporeans the best chance possible."


Writing on Facebook on Tuesday, Mr Singh said there is inconsistent information available on the various ITMs when it comes to jobs for Singaporeans.

In most employment statistics, the Government does not classify Singaporeans as a standalone category, with PRs collectively categorised with Singaporeans as locals, he said.

"This classification makes it difficult to consider the problems and issues that afflict the Singaporean work force across industries and over time. It also makes it difficult to track and consider policy options or alternatives to boost the employment and career progression prospects of Singaporeans - something every civic-minded citizen and most of us political moderates with a stake in Singapore should be concerned about," he wrote.

"Going forward, the Workers' Party MPs will file the questions to get data that is currently unavailable, not presented publicly by the Government, or not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing," he added.

"Separately, this information is necessary because, amongst other reasons, without hard data, there is much less scope for members of the public to rely on education and facts to counter fake news and falsehoods.

"Falsehoods fester far more when the facts are available but not made public. In post-Pofma Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways," Mr Singh said, referencing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.

Reiterating points made by Mr Zaqy in Parliament, Mr Chee said total employment across the 23 ITM sectors grew by 19,500, excluding foreign domestic workers.

This comprised an increase in employment of Singapore citizens by 39,300, an increase in employment of PRs by 8,600 and a decrease in employment of foreigners by 28,500.

"Mr Zaqy had also explained that it would be more meaningful to look at employment changes over a longer period, since the majority of the ITMs were launched only in 2018," said Mr Chee.

Stressing that the Government puts Singaporeans at the heart of everything it does, Mr Chee said that good jobs continue to be created now and in the future, and that the PRs in Singapore's workforce have contributed both economically and socially to Singapore.

This comes despite the fact that they receive lower subsidies and fewer benefits than citizens.

"More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens, as Mr Singh would be aware since the Workers' Party has joined PAP MPs in advocating for foreign spouses and children of Singapore citizens to be given priority for Singapore citizenship," said Mr Chee.

"We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain. Only then can we continue to progress together as Team Singapore."

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