SINGAPORE - Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Aug 31) said he was "puzzled" by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) filing a motion in Parliament to debate issues around foreign workforce policy 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 on Facebook.
He pointed to how Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had cautioned in his National Day Rally 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 earlier announced on Facebook that he expected the private member's motion and debate to take place on either the Sept 13 or Sept 14 sitting of Parliament.
The motion states: "That this Parliament calls upon the Government to take urgent and concrete action to address the widespread anxiety among Singaporeans on jobs and livelihood caused by the Foreign Talent Policy and the 'movement of natural persons' provisions in some free trade agreements like Ceca."
Mr Leong also insisted 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."
But 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 a full debate in July.
Then, Mr Ong and Manpower Minister Tan See Leng had delivered ministerial statements in Parliament 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. 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," said Mr Ong.
"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 had been receiving feedback on these issues, and was 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 by creating a tribunal to deal with workplace discrimination.
Mr Ong said the Government would consider how to address the PSP's motion during the upcoming Parliament sitting.