NCMP Leong Mun Wai maintains job losses, displacement are due to foreigners

He says PSP opposes Govt's emphasis on training and retraining Singaporeans.

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SINGAPORE - The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) on Tuesday (Sept 14) outlined several ways its position on foreign talent policies differed from the Government's, in areas such as reskilling, discrimination and job creation, among others.

The opposition party's Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai touched on these points in a speech at the end of a marathon 10-hour debate on two separate motions, one of which was filed by the PSP five months after Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam first challenged it to do so.

First, while the Government says job displacement is occurring due to a globalised and fast-changing world, the PSP believes it can be largely attributed to work pass holders, said Mr Leong.

He added that the party also opposes the Government's emphasis on training and retraining Singaporeans, as foreign workers should be the ones burdened with undergoing a skills transfer.

"I'm sure it's a minority of Singaporeans who can really change to a new industry, and learn new skills," said Mr Leong.

He also said that the PSP views job discrimination against locals as a structural issue rather than a sporadic one as made out by the Government, and that new legislation would be too slow to rectify the situation.

The PSP also sees the work pass holders streaming into Singapore as of "average" ability, whose jobs can be taken up by Singaporeans as well.

Mr Leong then noted the Government's point that employers were resisting changes to foreign workforce policy. "That is expected, because after all, they are profit-seekers. But PSP says, how long can we kick the can down the road?" he said.

He also dismissed concerns that Singapore would be sending the wrong signal to foreign professionals who feel Singapore is becoming less open and welcoming. "As long as we are united, we can put the message nicely to the foreigners," he said.

Earlier, in a 40-minute speech to open a motion on what the PSP said was "widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihoods", Mr Leong had suggested increasing the qualifying salaries for Employment Passes (EPs) for foreign professionals from the current $4,500 to $10,000, and to do the same for S Passes for mid-skilled foreigners from the present $2,500 to $4,500.

He also reiterated a call made in February for a standard monthly levy of $1,200 to be immediately imposed on each EP to reduce what he described as "unfair wage competition".

Mr Leong said local workers are disadvantaged, and observed that foreigners are not required to contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system.

He then recommended a cap on workers of a single nationality, based on the proportion of a company's staff strength in each business function.

This would break up concentration and eradicate discrimination, with the NCMP arguing that Singapore's recently announced plans to introduce anti-discrimination laws in the workplace would not be effective.

"A displaced Singaporean would not be in a strong position to go through a legal or arbitration process," he said.

"In the long term, we aim for a 10 per cent single nationality cap to ensure diversity in our workforce, and seek talent from different parts of the world, instead of predominantly from one country or region. We also aim for a 25 per cent to 30 per cent combined PMET cap on work pass holders and PRs (permanent residents) in the long run."

Mr Leong said new companies could still be allowed to deviate from this cap, provided they can prove a genuine shortage of the relevant skills in Singapore and that they have concrete and committed plans for localisation, including transfer of knowledge and skills within a stipulated time.

He also asked that the number of work pass holders granted permanent resident status or citizenship each year be reduced, to be "in sync" with an overall tightening of foreign manpower policies.

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MPs from both sides of the House spoke during a debate on two motions pertaining to jobs and foreign talent policies on Tuesday (Sept14).

Mr Leong's final proposal was for the creation of standing select committees for every ministry, with representatives from different parties to enable more "informative exchange" on policies and to monitor the implementation of new policies.

He also raised seven questions which he said had been derived from feedback from the people.

First, Mr Leong asked why Singaporeans face difficulty in finding good jobs, when "so many" work pass holders continue to take jobs in Singapore. "Are there not enough Singaporeans, or are they not given the opportunities by employers?" he said.

Second, he questioned if there are really more jobs being created for Singaporeans, given what he described as the growing issue of underemployment.

Third, Mr Leong wondered if Singapore's education system - including universities and polytechnics - are not producing the requisite skills or sufficient talent for key industries.

His fourth query posited that the average work pass holder did not necessarily possess skills that Singaporeans lack, let alone create jobs for locals.

Assuming this to be true, why do foreign professionals dominate key sectors such as finance; and are they here to complement Singaporeans or take over their roles, asked Mr Leong in his fifth question.

His sixth point focused on unfair wage competition in the form of employers being able to avoid CPF contributions for foreign workers.

Finally, Mr Leong asked why the Government continues to view discrimination as practised by a minority of employers only, despite what he said was the high concentration of EPs in certain sectors for some time.

Note: This story has been updated and edited for clarity.

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