PSP appears intent on campaign against Ceca, says minister

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday said he was "puzzled" by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) filing a motion in Parliament to debate issues around foreign workforce policies and the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) free trade pact.

"Unfortunately, the PSP appears intent on carrying on its campaign against Ceca," Mr Ong wrote in a Facebook post.

He pointed to how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had cautioned in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday that this campaign carried a strong racist undertone - and has impacted not only Indian nationals in Singapore but also local-born Indians.

PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had, in announcing his motion, said he expected it to be debated at either the Sept 13 or Sept 14 sitting of Parliament.

He insisted that the main focus of the debate would be on how to improve the jobs and livelihoods of Singaporeans, adding: "Ceca is not our main concern and has been thrust upon us by the Government."

In his post, Mr Ong said Mr Leong had persisted in falsely linking the issue of anxieties around jobs and livelihoods caused by competition from foreign workers with free trade agreements (FTAs) and Ceca, despite both sides having had a full debate in July.

Then, Mr Ong and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng spoke on the importance of free trade pacts, while debunking falsehoods on Ceca.

"Dr Tan and I had explained how Singapore needs to be open to the world to survive, and to earn a living. I went to great lengths to explain how FTAs, Ceca and the chapter on movement of natural persons work," Mr Ong wrote. "I explained how they were not the cause of the anxieties felt by workers. I asked the PSP to withdraw their false allegations about Ceca."

He added: "Mr Leong himself had seemed to acknowledge these points. He said that the PSP was not against FTAs.

"On FTA provisions, including the movement of natural persons, he acknowledged that Singaporeans' interests are taken care of when the FTAs are negotiated, but said that the PSP needed more time to assess if Ceca is beneficial to Singapore workers overall."

Mr Ong said the Government has been receiving feedback on these issues and is continually working to address anxieties around jobs and livelihoods.

"Hence, this past Sunday at the National Day Rally, PM spoke about this matter and announced various concrete policies to address the challenges faced by our workers, building on measures we have put in place over the years," he noted.

PM Lee had announced that the Government would continue to tighten the criteria for Employment Pass and S Pass holders over time by raising salary cut-offs.

He also said it would introduce anti-discrimination laws, including creating a tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination.

Mr Ong said the Government would consider how to address the PSP's motion at the upcoming Parliament sitting.

Justin Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2021, with the headline 'PSP appears intent on campaign against Ceca, says minister'. Subscribe