Pritam Singh calls for more support for the Singaporean worker
Leader of the Opposition (LO) and Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh yesterday called on the Government to play a bigger role in addressing concerns over unfair hiring practices and pay more attention to the Singapore worker, even as he acknowledged that the country must continue to look outward.
Speaking in Parliament for the first time in his new role as LO, Mr Singh said open borders are a fact of life for Singapore, and opposition politics and advocacy for Singaporeans cannot ignore this.
But how foreigners are managed and accommodated in the economy is one of several issues the country needs to tackle, he told the House in his speech outlining the WP's vision for this term of Parliament.
He said during the debate on the President's Address: "It is precisely because we need foreigners to help power our economy that we need to pay more attention to the Singapore worker, some of whom feel excluded from opportunities created in their homeland."
Echoing a call made by Pioneer MP Patrick Tay, who had kicked off yesterday's debate, Mr Singh urged the Manpower Ministry to publish the names of recalcitrant employers that continue to discriminate against locals.
This, he said, would allow Parliament and the public to understand how these companies operate and how they intend to transition to fairer practices.
"The problem is that we simply do not know enough, and the vacuum has given space for a more toxic conversation to ferment," he added.
Mr Singh also urged Parliament to pass anti-discrimination laws, and the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices to take a more activist approach.
Criticising the current penalties for employers who breach fair hiring requirements, Mr Singh called for an educational credential assessment for all Employment Pass and S Pass applicants, the cost of which would be borne by the applicant.
"Prosecution only for false declarations is simply not enough... This will ensure that only objectively qualified foreigners can work in Singapore."
Mr Singh said the WP does not have enough MPs in Parliament to form a shadow Cabinet but will organise itself to scrutinise policies in areas important to Singaporeans.
He outlined the party's five areas of focus for this term - health, ageing and retirement adequacy; jobs, businesses and the economy; education, inequality and the cost of living; housing, transport and infrastructure; and national sustainability.
Mr Singh also advocated for the formation of more select committees, which he said could operate as a "safety valve" and an agent of positive conversations on sensitive topics such as immigration. Such a select committee could help to investigate the issue of unfair hiring, he added.
Singapore also needs to change how it values the work of tradesmen, said Mr Singh, and one way to protect these trades is by regulating who can practice them. This would protect wages from being undercut by those who are unqualified.
"Uplifting our tradesmen will require a paradigm shift in how workers are viewed and trained," he added. "If it succeeds, it will raise the self-esteem and incomes of Singaporeans who may not be academically inclined but who have acquired valuable skills... Such a decisive shift will fundamentally alter our understanding of meritocracy."