Singapore's bilateral agreements with other countries have not jeopardised job opportunities for its citizens, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. 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 constituency event, he explained the reason for this was 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.
He cited a group of 47 employers who were placed on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.
MOM had said then that these employers will have their employment pass applications for foreign hires closely scrutinised, and those which are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.
During yesterday's event, which focused on support for workers and businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Heng said that more funds are being pumped into training Singaporeans.
In April, MAS had announced a $125 million support package to boost capabilities in the financial service 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 is 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 Conversations" virtual event on how Singaporean workers and companies 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 on Facebook.