Chan Chun Sing asks what's the point behind employment query, Pritam Singh says info for countering falsehoods

The WP will continue asking for more data.

Sulaiman Daud | January 08, 2020, 03:18 PM

Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh wants more clarity on government employment statistics under the various Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), to show how many jobs are filled by Singaporeans, Permanent Residents (PRs) and foreigners.

He said this would help Singaporeans track government policies to determine whether they are working to boost employment and improve career prospects, as well as counter falsehoods about such statistics.

Going forward, Pritam said that the WP would continue to file questions in Parliament to obtain such data.

Singaporeans, PRs, or both?

In a Facebook post on Jan. 7, Pritam pointed out there was inconsistent information available on the various Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) with regards to jobs for Singaporeans.

For example, the Construction ITM "stands out positively", showing that good jobs for Singaporeans is a target.

However, this is different for other ITMs.

Pritam said: "For the other ITMs, references range from “the workforce” to “locals” to “PMET jobs” not Singaporeans per se."

He added that in most employment statistics, the government does not classify Singaporeans as a standalone category.

Instead, Permanent Residents (PRs) are also included, grouped together with Singaporeans as "locals".

What are ITMs?

The ITM programme was first announced during Budget 2016 as a way to get trade associations, companies and the government to work together to help each industry prepare for changes in the economy.

The government eventually rolled out 23 different ITMs for industries like Aerospace, Financial Services and Food Manufacturing.

In April 2018, Finance Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that these 23 ITMs would be grouped into six related "clusters", such as "Manufacturing" and "Lifestyle".

Each cluster is headed by a political office-holder.

Together, they cover 80 per cent of Singapore's economy.

Parliamentary exchange 1: More information on breakdown of local and foreign employment under ITMs

On Jan. 6, Pritam asked in Parliament whether the Minister for Manpower could provide more detailed information on local employment under the ITMs.

Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State for Manpower, fielded the question.

He said that most of the ITMs were launched only in 2018, and added:

"Changes in workforce profile depend on a variety of factors which can be structural or cyclical in nature. To assess the impact of ITMs, it will be more meaningful to look at employment outcomes over the medium to longer term."

He provided numbers for employment change across the 23 ITM sectors from 2015 to 2018, with total employment in these sectors, excluding foreign domestic workers, growing by 19,500.

However, in his follow-up questions, Pritam asked if the government could be more specific on how the data is presented:

"My third question really pertains to how information on the ITMs is presented The road maps are not consistent in terms of jobs for Singaporeans, PRs or foreigners, for example.

I'll give you an example. Construction ITM. If you go on the YouTube channel and you see reference on construction, it's very clear. Good jobs for Singaporeans, no two ways about that. If you go to the Retail ITM, they talk about a future-ready workforce, and a professional and skilled workforce. So ostensibly this would mean a whole range beyond Singaporeans. InfoComm and Media talks about creating new PMET jobs, 13,000 new PMET jobs, and it goes on. So every ITM is different, understandably so.

But will the ministry in future, and going forward, present the data very clearly for each ITM. PRs, this many. Singaporeans, this many. And there are obvious reasons for this. The conversation becomes more fact-based, and you don't have a corrosive conversation about Singaporeans losing jobs to foreigners, etc."

Time needed for data to stabilise

In response, Zaqy replied:

"Sir, I thank the Member for his questions. The ITMs relate to all the 23 ITMs that you asked for. As I mentioned earlier, the ITMs were only launched in 2016 with the majority of them coming on-stream in 2018. So the data is still preliminary. So it will take time. It's more meaningful and impactful to measure them as we talk about medium-term and long-term developments.

So many of these developments are transformative, with transforming industries, transforming companies, doing job redesign. So it will take time. But the initial indicators look promising, but I do agree, and that's why we have not gone into detail yet because it will take some time to stabilise the data."

Zaqy added that MOM currently provides employment statistics in its Annual Labour Market Report that gives a breakdown of local and foreign employment in broad sectors.

He also said that Singapore follows international convention on employment statistics, ensuring compatibility with employment statistics published in previous years, to make it meaningful.

Zaqy added:

"So we are making progress, but there's still a lot of work to do as we transform and I think it will take time for data to stabilise. (It's) something we can look to and study on how to present this better in the medium and long term. Sir, I take the member's point."

Parliamentary exchange 2: Pritam and Chan Chun Sing

Later on, after other MPs had asked questions, Pritam rose again to speak.

"Sir, my original parliamentary question really was a question seeking data. The Minister for Trade and Industry spoke of the local PMET share going up 54 per cent to 57 per cent.

And my question really is, can we expect in future either by way of Parliamentary question or by the government on its own accord, dividing that into Singaporeans and PRs.

If the government's approach is no, we will not share that data, can the Minister please share that detail with us here. It is pointless for us to keep asking for that data if the government is not going to provide it."

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in response: "Mr Deputy Speaker, sir, I don't think we have anything to hide. We have just shared the data."

Pritam then asked, "Well, sir, if that's the case, then for the number, the 60,000 PMET jobs, the local PMET jobs, how many were for Singaporeans and how many were for PRs?"

Chan Chun Sing: What's the point behind the question?

Chan then said:

"We can get you the numbers. But let me say this. What is the point behind the question? First, has local unemployment increased with all these efforts? The answer is a resounding 'no'. Our people are getting good jobs. Are our wages going up? Yes, and it's faster than many other countries. Those are proof points to show that we are doing right by Singaporeans.

But I'm always very cautious about this constant divide, Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting. I’ve just spent the last half an hour explaining and sharing with this House how we are working hard to make sure Singaporeans do so. It’s not the data, it is the point of the question.

And I would like to remind this House. The ultimate competition is not pitting the Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign workforce competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible. How many increase in the jobs go to the Singaporeans? Enough for us to keep unemployment rate at the level which many countries would say it's 'friction', and that is how we’ve done it."

Pritam's post gives his final say

Although Pritam could not ask another follow-up question, he clarified his intentions in his Facebook post.

He said that the government's classification of the workforce made it difficult to consider the problems and issues that affect the Singaporean work force over time, and across different industries.

He added that it made it difficult to track and consider policy alternatives to boost employment and career progression prospects, which Pritam said every civic-minded citizen with a stake in Singapore should be concerned about.

Pritam said that the WP will continue to seek data on Singaporean employment:

"Minister Chan confirmed that the Government had nothing to hide and could provide the information sought. Going forward, the Workers’ Party MPs will file the questions to get the data that is currently unavailable or not presented publicly by the Government or not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing."

Finally, Pritam said that such information is necessary to help the public counter falsehoods, which is important after the Protection from Falsehoods and Manipulations Act (POFMA) has been passed:

"Falsehoods fester far more when the facts are available but not made public. In post-POFMA Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways."

You can see his post below:

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Top image from CNA screengrab.

H/T: CNA videos