The Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa clashed with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng as she called into dispute numbers he had provided about job creation for local workers.
During a parliamentary debate pertaining to jobs and foreign talent policies yesterday, Ms Poa argued that a portion of the jobs Dr Tan said had been created in the past 15 years could have been due to the "reclassification" of permanent residents (PRs) who became citizens and foreign workers who became PRs.
In her speech, she referred to a statement he made in July that the number of local professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) had grown by more than 380,000 from 2005 to last year.
On whether this growth was accounted for by Singaporeans, the minister had pointed then to the low citizen unemployment rate of around 3 per cent over the past decade, and that 87 per cent of citizens were born in Singapore.
"For those who have asked how much of this local PME job growth has gone to 'born-and-bred' Singaporeans, notwithstanding the divisive intent of such questions, let me state simply that the majority of this growth over this past decade went to Singaporeans born in Singapore," he said then.
Yesterday, Ms Poa presented a scenario in which 1,000 foreigners holding PME jobs obtained PR status, causing the 1,000 jobs to now be classified as a growth in local jobs despite no actual increase taking place.
She noted that there have been about 300,000 new Singapore citizens over 15 years, with the number of PRs remaining stable. This, said Ms Poa, suggests that a significant portion of the increase of 380,000 in local PME jobs could have come from a change in status of the job holders and not the actual creation of new jobs.
She asked the Manpower Ministry to clarify if such changes in residency or citizenship status were included in this figure of 380,000, and how many new local PME jobs were created after accounting for this "reclassification".
In a later exchange, Dr Tan reiterated: "In terms of the reclassification, I don't have all the statistics here with me now, but I have shared on July 6 in my ministerial statement that the majority of the local PME growth over the last 10 years went to Singaporeans born in Singapore."
He added: "That is more than 50 per cent. I would urge Ms Poa not to drive this kind of separation and segregation because I really don't think it is healthy for all of us, particularly when at some stage in our not too distant past, all of us, our parents, maybe our grandparents, were immigrants."
Ms Poa said her intention was not to separate those born in Singapore from those who are naturalised, but to understand which were actual jobs created and which were due to the "technicalities" of a job holder's status being reclassified.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin brought the exchange to a close.