Explaining why there are more foreign professionals in Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this is because Singapore’s economy has grown, and that there are not enough Singapoeans to fill the jobs created.
Mr Lee was speaking at the Ministerial Forum at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) on Tuesday.
According to local news outlets, there are about 150,000 professional Employment Pass holders here. They are in jobs such as chief executive officers and lawyers.
“Why are there so many?” Mr Lee explained in response to a question on whether Singapore could slow down the influx of foreign professionals here. “Because my economy has grown, I’ve created all these jobs, I don’t have Singaporeans for all of them.”
Mr Lee, however, said that he hopes he will be able to replace these expats with Singaporeans and that perhaps Singapore could do with fewer expats.
But he also said, “If I send all of them home, will I be sorry? Yes, and I am sure you will be too because you will not go to that job.”
It is a theme which Mr Lee has espoused on previously. Last October, he explained that foreigners are needed to meet Singapore’s economic and demographic needs.
“You need that range of skills and experiences and talent which no society can generate on its own, and you have to get them from all over the world – Europe, America, China, India,” he said at the France-Singapore Business Forum.
Yesterday, he gave the example of a foreigner CEO of a bank who creates “thousands of jobs”.
“You put a wrong CEO there, the bank goes bust, thousands lose their jobs.”
Mr Lee’s remarks come amidst lingering anger over the online postings of wealth manager Anton Casey who had posted derogatory and insulting remarks about “poor people” in Singapore who used public transport. It resulted in widespread outrage with Mr Casey’s employer terminating his services. Mr Casey and his family have since left Singapore for Australia.
Mr Lee’s claims about having “created all these jobs” and not having enough Singaporeans to fill them is a reiteration of a point he had made in his Labour Day message last year.
“We received record investment commitments last year – $16 billion worth,” Mr Lee said then. “And overall we created more jobs last year than the year before. We are creating so many jobs that we are worried that we do not have enough workers to go and fill them.”
Nonetheless, the government will be introducing measures for companies and businesses to give Singaporean professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) “fair consideration” in job applications under the “Fair Consideration Framework” which will come into effect in August this year.
The framework stipulates that “firms with more than 25 employees must advertise vacancies for jobs paying less than 12,000 Singapore dollars ($9,574) a month on a new jobs bank administered by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency for at least 14 days before applying for an employment pass to bring in a foreign national.”
On the issue of the government having created “so many jobs” overall in the economy, however, a study by the National University of Singapore’s Social Work department found that most of these jobs were in the services sector. It also found that the “working poor” in Singapore were not earning enough to make ends meet.
Associate Professor Hui Weng Tat of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy said: “We do have a problem, because we do have a large number of households who are earning income in the lower end, not having enough to cover their household expenditure, especially at the lower 20 per cent.”
Channel Newsasia reported that, “Among the reasons is the fact that about 90 per cent of the one million jobs created in the last decade are from the services sector, which observers say are lowly paid to begin with.”
In a Ministry of Manpower report released yesterday, it found that almost 80 per cent of jobs created last year were from the services sector as well.