SINGAPORE - The Progress Singapore Party's Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa on Tuesday (Sept 14) clashed with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng as she called into dispute numbers he had provided about job creation for locals.
During a parliamentary debate on two motions pertaining to jobs and foreign talent policies, 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, and were not actually new jobs.
In her speech, she referred to a ministerial statement he had given in July, where he had noted that the number of local professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) had grown by more than 380,000 from 2005 to 2020.
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.
On Tuesday, Ms Poa presented a scenario where 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 also pointed out that there have been about 300,000 new Singapore citizens over 15 years, with the number of PRs remaining stable. This, according to Ms Poa, suggests that a significant portion of the 380,000 increase in local PME jobs could have come from a change in status of the job holders and not due to 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 380,000 figure; and how many new local PME jobs were actually created after accounting for this "reclassification".
Ms Poa later repeated her question during an exchange with Dr Tan, with the Manpower Minister replying: "In terms of the reclassification, I don't have all the statistics here with me now, but I've 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's 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's 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.
Dr Tan reiterated that the majority of the jobs created had gone to Singaporeans born and bred here, and had not been "reclassified".
Ms Poa responded: "Okay, you are unable to give a number, just a majority?"
Dr Tan said: "I know you want a specific percentage. It's a majority, so it's more than 50 per cent… The unemployment rate of citizens has remained stable and low. Secondly, the PR population has also remained stable over the past decade at around 500,000. So it cannot be the case that most of the employment growth went to PRs."
Pressing on with her position, Ms Poa said: "Yes, but the PRs become citizens, so there's a drop in the PRs, and then the new foreigners go in to fill up that PR numbers. So as a whole, the number of citizens plus PRs actually increases. That base increases, and therefore leading to an increase in the number of local PME jobs purely due to reclassification, not job creation. That is my point."
Dr Tan said that the statistics do not include those not born in Singapore, and was forced to repeat his stance as Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin brought the exchange to a close.
"I'm actually trying to also understand the Member's question here," said Dr Tan. "But the majority of the jobs created went to Singaporeans."