Bilateral agreements have not jeopardised employment opportunities for Singaporeans: Heng Swee Keat

Mr Heng assured Singaporeans that there are proper channels in place for the Government to monitor and take action against companies which have discriminatory hiring practices. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Bilateral agreements that Singapore signed with other countries have not jeopardised employment opportunities for Singaporeans, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Sunday (Aug 23).

In fact, they have opened doors to better jobs.

Responding to criticisms about how free trade agreements or comprehensive economic cooperation agreements had caused Singapore to "sign away important protection for Singaporean (jobs)", Mr Heng said that such statements were totally false.

"In fact, what we are doing is to ensure that it creates better jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

These agreements can help draw in investments from abroad, and in turn pave the way for Singaporean firms to invest overseas and be fairly treated there, he said. "This in turn creates jobs back home."

He stressed that the agreements do not mean that Singapore was negotiating away its rights to determine who becomes a citizen or a permanent resident here, or who gets awarded an employment pass.

It is Singapore's sovereign right to decide on these issues, he added.

But Mr Heng acknowledged that some may feel there are too many foreigners residing in Singapore. He cited residents' concerns about the large number of expatriates at Changi Business Park - which is part of East Coast GRC where Mr Heng is an MP.

Speaking during a virtual event organised by the constituency's grassroots advisers, Mr Heng explained that Singapore was still growing expertise in certain sectors, and that the Republic was facing a shortage of manpower in technology and in risk management areas.

These areas were ones where the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also saw scope for improvement, when it recently said it would engage financial institutions in an effort to grow the Singaporean core of their workforce.

Mr Heng also assured Singaporeans that there are proper channels in place - such as the Fair Consideration Framework - for the Government to monitor and take action against companies which have discriminatory hiring practices.

For instance, a group of 47 employers were earlier this month placed on the Manpower Ministry's (MOM) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices, he said.

The MOM had earlier said then these employers will have their Employment Pass applications for foreign hires closely scrutinised, and those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.

During Sunday's event, which focused on how the Government was supporting workers and businesses during the pandemic, Mr Heng added that more funds are being pumped into training Singaporeans.

In April, the Monetary Authority of Singapore had announced a $125 million support package to boost capabilities in the financial services and fintech sectors amid the current economic slump.

Such training was important, he said, as the skills which will be needed in a post-Covid-19 economy will be different from what they are today.

"It may be raining very heavily now," he said. But even as people seek shelter during this economic storm, they should also take the opportunity to improve themselves. "So that when the rain stops, we can run," he said.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking at the "East Coast Conversation" virtual event on how Singaporeans can benefit from the recently-announced measures to help tide the economy over the Covid-19 lull.

Mr Heng's fellow East Coast GRC MPs - Mr Tan Kiat How, Ms Jessica Tan, Dr Maliki Osman and Ms Cheryl Chan - also took part in the event, which was streamed live over Facebook. As at 9.30pm, more than 5,600 people had watched the hour-long discussion.

The event was the first of a series of dialogues on various issues. Ms Chan said she will also launch a silver blueprint on plans for the elderly in the constituency.

Last Monday (Aug 17), Mr Heng had said in a ministerial statement that $8 billion more will be spent to save jobs, create new ones and seize new growth opportunities.

This will fund initiatives such as a new $1 billion Jobs Growth Incentive programme, which will help firms to increase their headcount of local workers over the next six months, as well as pay for the extension of a scaled-back version of the Jobs Support Scheme.

Initially meant to cover wages up to August, the Jobs Support Scheme will be extended to cover wages paid up to March 2021, with the support adjusted based on how quickly each sector is expected to recover.

Firms in the hardest-hit aerospace, aviation, and tourism sectors will get 50 per cent wage support for seven more months. The built environment sector will get the same amount of support for two more months before it is lowered to 30 per cent of wages paid up to March 2021, in line with the phased resumption of construction activities.

Most other sectors will get 10 per cent support for seven more months.

Those that are doing well, such as biomedical sciences, financial services, and infocommunications and technology, will get 10 per cent support up to December.

The measures announced on Monday come on top of the nearly $100 billion committed under the four Budgets this year.

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