“If this transition we progress too slowly, we could actually end up losing our competitiveness. And not only the economy growth will slow down, job growth will slow down as well. So therefore if we get it wrong, it could end up with higher unemployment. We could end up with wage stagnation. That’s what we are worried about. “If we try to move too fast, faster than what the businesses can cope with, we are going to see many businesses closing down, relocating and as a result, workers who are released, if they are released in big numbers, we may not be able to retrain them, upscale them, and match them to new jobs fast enough, then we could end up with structural unemployment.” – PAP Millionaire Minister cum union chief Lim Swee Say
The yes-man has spoken and this time he is even confused at himself. In the recently Budget, businesses in Singapore are given lesser foreign worker quota – much to their dismay of course. At least two employer-interest lobbyist groups, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises(ASME) and the Singapore National Employers Federation(SNEF), have expressed disapproval at the move to curb foreign worker intake. Minister Lim Swee Say, the chief of Singapore’s only official workers union, somehow drew two equally bleak conclusions regarding his own party’s move to reduce businesses’ reliance on cheap foreign labor.
Going by Lim Swee Say’s logic,
1) if companies are resistent and prefers to rely on cheap foreign labor for profits, these businesses will be uncompetitive, leading to slower economic growth, a higher unemployment and wage stagnation
2) if companies accept the changes and begin restructuring, some of them will close down, relocate and Singapore workers will be under-employed in jobs they do not specialize in.
So which is which? This also highlighted an interesting U-turn in economical strategies. For the past decade, the PAP have been trumpeting their record GDP growth and justifying the need for more foreign labor. Just in 2008, Lim Swee Say boasted the foreign worker policy is needed to maintain GDP growth [Link]. Why would the same lax foreign worker policy today result in a slower economic growth?
Companies have been profiting off savings made from cheap foreign labor, and since corporate taxes and GDP is based on net profits, the PAP have been more than happy to supply them with foreign labor. The notable change in foreign worker policy is largely due to Singaporeans’ vocal dissent against an increasing population.
Under Lim Swee Say’s watch, the salaries of the bottom 10% sees their salaries stagnant and structural unemployment rises over the past 13 years. Unlike a workers’ union chief, the millionaire minister never once spoke out against his government over the lax foreign worker policy. The salary of a taxi driver today is even higher than that of a fresh grad or an experienced junior-middle executive position. The Minister without portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office is one of those yes-men around the Prime Minister feeding the cluttered-mind public with inconsistent messages. The really worrying part is if he’s feeding the wrong information about the state of the workers to the Prime Minister in his capacity as a union chief. In his vigor to impress his bosses, he change his stance at an instance and parrot the party line. For all we know, Lim Swee Say could be where he is today because of his blind loyalty to the party. Perhaps Lee Hsien Loong doesn’t need to pay them millions, anyone with K9 training would suffice.