Important for political parties to find common ground on fundamentals vital to S'pore: Ong Ye Kung

In a Facebook post, Mr Ong Ye Kung wrote about the debates in Parliament last week on racism, and on free trade agreements and foreign manpower policy.
In a Facebook post, Mr Ong Ye Kung wrote about the debates in Parliament last week on racism, and on free trade agreements and foreign manpower policy.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - It is important for political parties to find common ground on fundamentals that are vital to Singapore, such as the present need for the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) and the importance of free trade agreements, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (July 11).

"We don't have to disagree for the sake of disagreeing," Mr Ong wrote in a Facebook post on the debates in Parliament last week on racism, and on free trade agreements and foreign manpower policy.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) deputy secretary-general Chee Hong Tat also took to Facebook on Sunday to comment on the debates and to respond to Workers' Party chief and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, who spoke about xenophobia and nativism last Thursday at an Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) event.

Mr Chee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport, said: "I am glad that Mr Singh understands the stakes, and has not taken a zero-sum view.

"There are genuine concerns with foreigners working and living in Singapore, and it is not always easy to persuade people why we cannot have more jobs for locals without some competition from foreigners."

Mr Ong criticised the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) for refusing to withdraw what he said were wrongful allegations about the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca).

In Parliament, Mr Ong had cited some PSP leaders as saying that Ceca gave professionals from India "a free hand" to come and work in Singapore.

"It is a shame that PSP colleagues, after listening to the facts, would only say that they will study the matter further," Mr Ong wrote.

He said he took comfort in Mr Singh's acceptance of the Government's corrections, and accepted Mr Singh's point that the Government could have come forward with data and information earlier.

"I am sure when it comes to the methods, whether it is to help home owners affected by EIP, or cushion the impact of globalisation on our PMEs (professionals, managers and executives), there will be different views.

"But the fundamentals that keep Singapore stable and successful are not in doubt, and not shaken," said Mr Ong.

"If we can sustain this sort of politics in Singapore, we can be confident that better days are still ahead."

Mr Chee said NTUC supports the Government's position on free trade agreements and the Manpower Ministry's efforts to enhance protection for local workers.

NTUC will continue to push for more to be done to ensure fair consideration for Singaporeans when it comes to hiring and career progression, he said.

It will look at all options, including anti-discrimination laws, Mr Chee added.

"NTUC understands the concerns that our local workers face, and my fellow Labour MPs and I will continue to advocate better protection for our workers through ensuring fair hiring practices and developing a local talent pipeline."

During the debate in Parliament last week, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said that his ministry has been studying various options to give the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices more bite.

Dr Tan told reporters on Saturday that anti-discrimination laws are being considered even if they are not a panacea for unfair employment practices.

He added that stiffer penalties may be adopted for employers who do not consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities, and "it will not be long" before his ministry and the tripartite partners come back with a recommendation.

Dr Tan was responding to comments made by Mr Singh at the SICC event, where he had called for businesses to lobby the Government to pass anti-discrimination laws.

Mr Singh said that while the WP supports the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) in principle, the FCF needed more teeth.

Introduced in 2014, the FCF sets out the requirements for employers in Singapore to consider Singaporeans fairly for job opportunities before hiring foreign professionals on the Employment Pass and S Pass.

Mr Singh noted that, under the FCF, employers who unfairly hire foreigners over Singaporeans are subjected to only administrative penalties.

Anti-discrimination laws with statutory penalties, he said, would send a "powerful signal" for businesses to change how they recruit.

In his post, Mr Chee also cited the Workfare Income Supplement, Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, Jobs Support Scheme and Jobs Growth Incentive as examples of existing protections and safety nets for local workers.

He said the Government also pays careful attention to managing the inflow of foreign workers.

This includes enhancing the FCF, tightening dependency ratio ceilings and raising minimum qualifying salary thresholds for employment pass holders.

Mr Chee said NTUC also has in place programmes that help to get displaced Singaporeans back into good jobs.

"NTUC remains committed to continue working with the Government and employers to further invest in our local workers," he said.

"We focus on growth to enlarge the economic pie so that Singaporeans can benefit from better jobs and higher pay," he added.

"Without foreign investment and foreign manpower, we would not have achieved the economic growth and prosperity that we have today, and Singaporean workers would be worse off."