Will voters let Lim Swee Say take the fall for PAP's foreign manpower policy?

That's GE for you. Some people stay, some people leave.

Jonathan Lim| September 04, 03:36 PM

If the opposition parties' first political broadcasts last night (3 September) on Channel NewsAsia are any indication, the People's Action Party's (PAP) foreign manpower policy is the biggest target board this GE2015.

All seven opposition parties that had a political broadcast, in some form or another, attacked the PAP's manpower policy over the last decade. Phrases like 'economic growth at all cost' and 'profits at all cost' were also thrown around.

And then there is Minister Lim Swee Say

He stands in East Coast Group Representation Constituency (GRC), which was the poorest winner (54.8% of votes, a fall of 9.1% from 2006) among the PAP GRC teams for GE2011. If the opposition were to take down another GRC aside from Aljunied in GE2015, there is a high chance it may be East Coast.

As the GRC's anchor Minister most likely to face the toughest fight, he has his work cut out for him to convince voters why PAP brought in foreigners the way they did.

The drawbacks of the increased number of foreign workers in Singapore has been mentioned constantly online and many Singaporeans, at some point or another in the last ten years, have surely complained about the crowded public transport or the changing people landscape of Singapore.

"I want to assure you, we did it for you."

Minister Lim, because of this bugbear Singaporeans have and his position at East Coast GRC, sought to explain to Singaporeans why the PAP's Government imported foreign labour they way it did. Not once, but twice - first at the press conference unveiling East Coast GRC candidates and another time during last night's (3 September) PAP rally at Bedok Stadium.

In fact, during last night's rally, when he was explaining why the Government had to bring in foreign labour he said, "I want to assure you, we did it for you."

But why?

Before that quote gets warped into some Internet meme to be used against the PAP, the electorate should hear what the incumbent has to say, because you know ... consider your options before making a decision?

The 'Why' of foreign labour

Economic instability due to Asian Financial Crisis (1997), Dot.Com bubble burst (2000), 9-11 incident (2001) and SARS (2003) caused Singaporeans to lose jobs.

To protect Singapore and Singaporeans from future fluctuations (preventing more job losses), the Government had to grow its economy. And by that, it meant that companies which had good projects could come to Singapore to execute them, but they will bring with them more foreign workers when required.

And the results?

According to Minister Lim, during the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, local workers grew by 40,000 while foreign workers fell by 4,000. Earlier in 2001 to 2003, local workers with jobs increased 35,000 while foreign workers fell by 70,000.

He acknowledged that this solution brought about a new problem - the overcrowding woes Singaporeans lament about. He then stressed the point that since 2010, the Government had recognised the issue of a raising ratio of foreign workers to local workers and sought to change its policy to maintain a 1 to 2 ratio of foreign to local workers.

This has led to the growth of foreign PMEs to fall from 45,000 annually to 13,000 in 2014.

He would know these figures well because he was the labour union chief from 2007 to 2015.

Your call, voters in East Coast

So to recap, fluctuations in economy caused Singaporeans to lose jobs. To curtail that, economic growth had to take place and more foreign workers were brought in to do that. Along the way, more jobs were created for Singaporeans but the influx of foreign workers became a problem for Singaporeans. The number of foreign workers allowed into Singapore has been tightened to maintain a 1 foreign to 2 local worker ratio.

Did his explanation convince you? Or will Minister Lim Swee Say take the ultimate fall for the PAP's foreign manpower policy?


Top photograph from Christopher Wong.

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