Singapore

Trade agreements have not hurt Singaporeans' job prospects: DPM Heng

DPM Heng says trade deals with other countries have actually opened doors to better jobs for locals

Singapore's bilateral agreements with other countries have not jeopardised job opportunities for its citizens, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday. In fact, they have opened doors to better jobs.

Responding to criticisms about how free trade agreements or comprehensive economic cooperation agreements had caused Singapore to "sign away important protection for Singaporean (jobs)", Mr Heng said such statements were totally false.

"In fact, what we are doing is to ensure that it creates better jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

These agreements can help draw investments from abroad, and in turn pave the way for Singaporean firms to invest overseas and be fairly treated there, he said. "This in turn creates jobs back home."

He stressed that the agreements do not mean that Singapore was negotiating away its rights to determine who becomes a citizen or a permanent resident here, or who gets awarded an employment pass.

It is Singapore's sovereign right to decide on these issues, he added.

But Mr Heng acknowledged that some may feel there are too many foreigners residing in Singapore. He cited residents' concerns about the large number of expatriates at Changi Business Park, which is part of East Coast GRC where Mr Heng is an MP.

Speaking during a virtual constituency event, he explained the reason for this was that Singapore was still growing expertise in certain sectors, and that the Republic was facing a shortage of manpower in technology and in risk management areas.

These areas were the ones where the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) also saw scope for improvement when it recently said it would engage financial institutions in an effort to grow the Singaporean core of their workforce.

Mr Heng assured Singaporeans that there are proper channels in place - such as the Fair Consideration Framework - for the Government to monitor and take action against companies that have discriminatory hiring practices.

He cited a group of 47 employers who were placed on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

The MOM had said then that these employers will have their employment pass applications for foreign hires closely scrutinised, and those who are recalcitrant or uncooperative will have their work pass privileges cut back.

During yesterday's event, which focused on support for workers and businesses during the pandemic, Mr Heng added that more funds are being pumped into training Singaporeans.

In April, the MAS announced a $125 million support package to boost capabilities in the financial services and fintech sectors amid the current economic slump.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking at the East Coast Conversations virtual event on how Singaporean workers and firms can benefit from the recently announced measures to help tide the economy over the Covid-19 lull.

Mr Heng's fellow East Coast GRC MPs - Mr Tan Kiat How, Ms Jessica Tan, Dr Maliki Osman and Ms Cheryl Chan - also took part in the event, which was streamed live over Facebook.

Employment