Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera gave a speech in Parliament today (Sep. 1).
His speech, which lasted for about 20 minutes, touched on three main points:
- Economy and economic intelligence
- Social safety nets
- Social solidarity amidst pluralism
Here is a summary of each point:
Economic challenges ahead
One of the economic challenges that Perera highlighted was the lack of Singaporeans in "desirable jobs" that continue to be held by foreign Special and Employment pass holders.
Perera questioned why Singaporeans, who face skill-obsolescence in sunset industry jobs, are not re-skilling fast enough to sunrise sectors.
He also cited anecdotal comments from employers saying:
"It is not easy to find enough Singaporeans who have the higher-order skills to lead large teams at the local, regional or global levels; skills like resilience, strong communication skills, finding unconventional solutions to novel problems and so on".
Perera clarified that he does not mean that "this feedback is necessarily accurate".
He added that there are some employers who engage in discriminatory practices against Singaporeans as well as Singaporeans who have been successful as business leaders in MNCs and local firms.
However, he asked if the government could consider engaging with employers to assess if there is any basis to this feedback and also understand why locals with these skills are not being produced in sufficient numbers, if that is indeed the case.
Suggestions to tackle economic challenges
To tackle the future economic challenges, including unemployment and under-employment, Perera offered five suggestions:
- Enhancing incentives to companies to hire workers specifically from industries that are likely to face obsolescence in the next decade
- Reviewing the entire sector of workers on work permits and set long-term targets to substantially reduce dependence on foreign workers
- Engaging with employers to understand why it's challenging to find enough Singaporeans who have the higher-order skills to lead large teams at the local, regional or global levels
- Studying and identifying issues on Singapore's domestic entrepreneurship and innovation
- Considering deploying relevant tools to incentivise and nudge local firms to develop tangible programs that ensure traceability of supply chains and sound practices
Perera also touched on the need for good intelligence to support economic planning.
In times of crisis, he said that more frequent data on how many people are losing their jobs would help inform decision-making and public debate.
Social safety nets
Singapore's system of social safety nets contains some "sand in the system", said Perera.
He explained that appealing for help through schemes like Self-employed persons Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), Com-care, Medifund or even a reduction in HDB resale levy when downgrading, involves multiple steps.
These processes are time-consuming and waste resources of social workers and public servants.
They can also be "excruciatingly embarrassing" to the applicant, who may end up withdrawing their applications for that reason.
In view of these concerns, Perera raised the following questions:
- "Is there a better lens through which to think about such issues? Can we focus not only on social justice, which is paramount, but also pragmatism, a value much lauded in Singapore?"
- "When there are applications for financial aid, could we, for instance, ask applicants to make declarations that they do not receive family support, bearing the risk of penalties for false declarations?"
- "Could we ask applicants to provide permission to the agency to access financial or other records on a need-to-know basis rather than requiring them to bring physical copies to a physical meeting?"
- "Could we handle more interviews remotely using now ubiquitous video-call technology?"
"The Covid crisis is testing our fault lines of class," Perera said. "The gap will widen between those with plenty of future-ready skills, financial and social capital versus those that have less."
Given how the pandemic may very well exacerbate potential faultlines in Singapore, Perera emphasised the importance of building a political, social and economic eco-system that is not fragile.
He suggested that a stronger civil society with a louder voice could possibly bring an element of diversity and debate that could enhance resilience.
Among his suggestions was also "to promote unorthodox pathways" in the education system, by educating students to think creatively instead of just providing answers in a "formulaic fashion".
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Top image from gov.sg/YouTube.