Singapore

Minister, opposition MPs spar over issue of protecting local PMET jobs

Question on job market and EP, S Pass growth sparks debate

A question posed by Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai sparked a protracted debate in Parliament yesterday, with several opposition MPs questioning Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on the Government's efforts to protect local PMETs from being displaced by foreigners.

In her speech, Mrs Teo said the number of locals in professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) jobs has grown by about 35,000 a year on average between 2014 and last year.

In the same period, the number of Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass holders grew by fewer than 9,000 a year, she added.

Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, asked how many people became permanent residents (PRs) and new citizens during that period.

He added that previously reported data puts the number at around 50,000 a year.

Mrs Teo acknowledged that around 20,000 people become citizens every year, while another 30,000 become PRs.

"I think what Mr Leong is trying to suggest is that all of your gains are meaningless because they are all occupied by PRs and citizens," she said.

But this is not the case, the minister added. A significant number of new citizens and PRs are children who are not part of the workforce, while others are married to citizens.

One in three marriages now are between citizens and non-citizens, she noted.

She suggested Singaporeans should instead look at the bigger picture on the increased proportion of locals in PMET jobs, and decide if this is an "amazing accomplishment" not easily achieved elsewhere.

She also asked Mr Leong if Singapore should start distinguishing between new citizens and "real" citizens, and if so, how many years of citizenship would qualify a person as a "real" citizen.

Replying, Mr Leong said: "Whether it's the original Singaporeans or the new Singaporeans, we actually do not make that distinction."

He added that his issue was with the impact of each year's crop of new citizens and PRs on the existing population.

If there are 50,000 new citizens and PRs each year, but the number of locals in PMET jobs increases by only 35,000, then there is an undeniable pressure on the PMET job market, he said.

Mrs Teo acknowledged his point of view, but reiterated her earlier points that many new citizens and PRs are either not in the workforce or married to Singaporeans.

"They have a family nexus. Are we to say: 'Please don't work. Please be out of the workforce,'" she asked.

"I don't believe Mr Leong is saying that at all. However, this constant obsession - if I may put it that way - with drawing lines, I'm not sure is good for us as a society."

MISLEADING

Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) then asked if the Government believes that slowing down the growth of EP and S Pass holders is sufficient to prevent local PMETs from getting displaced.

He added that it is misleading to compare both numbers, given that the overall base numbers in both groups are different. This means the slowdown in the rate of EP and S Pass holders is "less dramatic" than what Mrs Teo said.

Many PMET positions may have already been filled by foreigners, Dr Lim added, making it no surprise that the required number of EP and S Pass holders has gone down.

Mrs Teo replied: "I merely stated the facts, I did not say that one contributed to the other. I stated the facts; this is what they were."

Singapore Politics