As the recent Labour day festivities ended and life returns back to normal for most Singaporeans after the super-long weekend, I was left pondering about the labour-day speech made by our Prime Minister on foreign workers.
The fact that he spent a bulk of his time speaking about this issue meant that it has grabbed his attention for a while and why not as many Singaporeans are also talking about it in coffeeshops, HDB void decks and the market places.
Unfortunately, most Singaporeans did not share the sanguine sentiments on foreign workers like he did.
Transitioning has conducted a poll on our blog in March and out of the 1010 respondents, 873 or 86.44% have indicated that they are uncomfortable with the idea of mass-importing foreigners to solve our low birth rate problem.
Its still a mystery why our government continues its intense persistance to bring in more foreigners when clearly the voters have shown their displeasure recently and hammered the ruling party with more than 100,000 swing votes in GE 2011 - bringing it’s majority votes down to 60.1% and the lowest since PAP seized power.
More strangely, in contrast to the usual goverment’s precise thorough planning when carrying out any long-term fiscal policy that affects the country immensely, the intake of foreigners was done flippantly, casually and even haphazardly.
For example, we all knew that there isn’t enough housing to house the 200,000 over new foreigners that flooded the country in the last five years which has incidentally caused the housing price index to skyrocketted alot recently.
Our infrastructure also suffered under the severe strain of new immigrants and though the new second circle line was only opened last year, it was not sufficient to bear with the intense new load of human traffic and even suffered it’s first massive break-down last month.
It’s not the government’s policy to plan such a massive movement without proper consultation, feedback and logistical support sparking rumours that the crucial decision could be made by a small group at the top and more frighteningly by the Prime Minister himself alone.
He has decided on planting two integrated resorts almost all on his own when the parliament was splitted in the middle five years ago and it is highly possible that the massive foreign influx could solely be his call also.
The different conflicting calls for acceptance of new immigrants also confused the nation alot - trying to beef up our population to six million so that our GDP will remain buoyant, a drastic lack of foreign talents that will enable our country to be like New York and London and finally the classic pertinent reason of resolving the low birth rate.
The plan to bring in hundreds of thousands of foreigners within a short period of time seemed to be unscheduled, sudden and even sinister as the country was not forewarned of this new influx before hand until Singaporeans started to see jams in MRT trains and shopping malls.
By then, hundreds of thousands of third world country dwellers have already landed on our shore with new work contracts - right under our noses and the government did not bothered to even inform the whole country about this massive migration plan and we were simply told to readily accept them into our fold.
More ominously, later on, MOM officers realised that in their haste to approve work permits for foreigners, many applicants sent in bogus educational certificates and illuminating work experiences painted on glowing resumes were all but a sham.
By then, it was too late as the work permit holders have already started working in our island – some who could be murderers, traffickers and robbers living next door to us but managed to get out and started a new life proivded by our country.
The lack of employment protection for local PMETs has led to employers hiring cheaper well educated foreigners with third world degrees – effectively replacing many of our own mid-ranged managers with first-world local degrees in the process.
Singapore’s well educated PMETs gradually found themselves reporting to managers from third world countries and interviews are now normally conducted by foreigners.
The annihiliation has slowly begun and shows no signs of relenting as the Singaporean worker found himself to be the minority worker in most local and foreign companies nowadays.
Despite the mayhew the government has caused to the country, strangely all this while, there is not even a whimper that was uttered in protest against the government…all seems normal in this money-driven dog-eat-dog-world society.
Moreover, if I can remember vividly, our government did not bring the important issue of mass importation of foreigners into the country for discussion at all on it’s many feedback platforms - not once. It simply acted on it’s own and then started to ask the population to accept them when they are already living next door to us.
Massive influx of foreigners
For the record, as of June 2010, our workforce consists of 1,712,600 Singaporeans (“citizens”), 334,700 permanent residents (“PRs”) and 1,088,600 foreigners.
Now, PRs and foreigners make up 45% of our workforce. In June 2001, they only formed 36% of our workforce.
The relentless messages sent out by the government to accept foreigners because of our low birth rate has being so incessant recently that I feel it may have gone overboard.
Sometimes, I don’t even want to read such articles anymore – call it the inability to face the harsh truth if you may but it makes my blood boils when the messsage becomes too hard-hitting and regular.
Low birth rate excuse for government to bring in immigrants?
Our total fertility rate (TFR) has hovered at the critical rate of 1.2 when we need at least 2.1 to effectively replace ourselves and the government has taken up this issue and using it against the people.
Yet others have blamed the government for not doing enough to help Singaporeans give birth whereas many have written to the forum pages recently saying that our tough work culture here has all but deter many couples from wanting to give birth to one or any children at all.
Yes, foreigners have being coming in by the thousands since 2000 and eventually culminating into an avalanche few years prior to GE 2011.
One main bugbear of the foreign influx is that there is no transparency on how immigrants are being selected to be permanent residents (PR). Friends have told me how foodcoourt stall assistant can be PR and one has even spoke to a PR cleaning tiolets in a food centre.
Though such stories are unsubstantiated, we clearly need a comprehensive transparent system telling us how foreign talents are selected to be PRs as eventually they will move on to be citizens.
Lack of transparency in our immigration system
In Australia, there is a thorough point-system set up to identify skilled talents for immigration purposes. Applicants must clear 65 minimum points before they are eligible to apply for work visa in Australia.
Age, English proficiency, skills and educational qualifications are main criterion for such point-system migration processing.
On the other hand, the Singaporeans system lacks a transparent comprehensive way of gauging whether the immigrant has skills that are unique to local Singaporeans. We do not want too many semi-skilled professionals
Moreover, there is the sick feeling that the recent foreigner-first policy here may not be solely for the birth rate reason as most developed countries face the same issue especially in Europe and Australia whereby their low birth rate similarly could never replace the ageing population but they have never resorted to mass immigration like we do.
They rely on a mixture of baby goodies, flexible conducive work arrangement and skilled immigration to solve their low birth rate problem. Elderly citizens are encouraged to take on employment way after their retirement age and this partially helps stem the need for the hiring of foreign workers like we do.
At 40 years old, Singaporeans already feel the pressure of not being able to find re-employment easily when they are being retrenched and as the population ages, our government must really penalises companies that discriminates against aged workers who can still continue to contribute to the workforce.
I travelled quite often via Qantas airlines to visit my family in Sydney and I never failed to always marvel at the older workers who served me at the airplanes. They are steady, experienced and their age is never an issue when it comes to workability.
Back in the Singapore Airlines planes, I could hardly see a stewardess or steward who is aged above 40 years old unless he is the chief steward. This is a shame and should never happen at all.
If we can persuade our employers to continue hire our matured workers way past their retirement age, I am sure that we do not really need so many foreign workers in our midst.
The ease in employing younger and cheaper foreign workers with the slew of work permits available has to stop immediately.
Unless the government starts to introduce stiff measures to protect locals in the workforce, foreigners will continue to be viewed as “enemies” by the locals resulting in severe social disharmony.
Carrots to become citizens
Many netizens have also commented that foreigners are enticed with all sorts of carrots to be citizens here so that they will be in time to vote for the ruling party in five years’ time. So far, this is unsubstantiated.
It seems a reasonable excuse however as the ruling party has being suffering from a power erosion since two elections ago and any more vote slide will result in a power base shift – adverse to it’s strong monopolistic hold on to power all this while.
Many political analysts have commented that a 1/4 opposition 3/4 ruling party parliament may be the in-thing for the near future.
Even strongman Lee Kuan Yew has predicted that no political party could hold on power for too long and PAP would one day lose control of the country.
Yet, the new citizens’ votes could provide a source of hope to the ruling party to reverse this imminent trend and if this could be achieved with some persuasive sugar-coating, why not?
Moreover, our weak social movement and lame citizenry outcry have allowed the government to carry out all kinds of unreasonable immigration polices without having to face any public resistance. If such policies are carried out in other parts of the world, the population will rise up in protest and even vote out the government within one election.
Australia and Canada have tried to bring in large numbers of emigrants during the early 2000s to adverse reaction from it’s own citizens. More seriously, the foreign citizens could not integrate well with the locals there causing all sorts of social mayhew in the process.
How Australia tackles its’ low birth rate
At March 2010 the estimated population for Australia was 22.27 million people. At 30 June 2009 around one quarter of the estimated resident population comprised of people born overseas. At the 2006 Census 45 per cent of Australian residents were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.
In Australia, whole towns have been taken over by immigrants and some converted citizens could not even speak a word of English. They also brought in their own culture to the country and do not seem to integrate well with the locals over there.
That is why now for new immigrants, they have to take a compulsory English language test to ascertain that they have a minimum proficiency before they are being accepted into the country.
Things however came to a standstill two years ago when many Indians were stabbed – some fatally – causing thousands of them to leave the country.
The anti-foreigner sentiments got so bad that it caused the strong Howard government to lose power in the election eight years ago resulting in the current labour government seizing power.
However, things perk up a little on the birth front when the Aussies began to introduce a string of monetary incentives especially catering to the huge group of single teenage mums who all wanted to give birth after high school as the government pays out close to A$1000 a month till the child reaches adulthood at 18 years old.
Add in unemployment income for the teenage mum and you will understand why the teenage single mum scheme becomes such a popular hit over in the land of the Oz.
Children also receive free education till 18 and if she stays a distance from the university campus she can claim travelling expenses monthly till he graduates.
Of course, the Aussies all pay a hefty income tax of up to 50% to enjoy such luxurious benefits and I am not sure that Singaporeans are ready for that.
I am not saying that Singapore should follow the Aussie way of encouraging our teenagers to become single mums but as this is a drastic situation, much more thought should be given to encourage births here than just the usual baby bonus scheme which hardly tickles the hormones.
Why Singaporeans don’t want to give birth
Moreover, nothing is done concretely to improve our work life balance here besides the rhetorical feel-good message sent out during government-led campaign that will never really takes off without the private sector co-operation.
Many women have cited the chronic work load here that prevents them from wanting to have children and it’s a valid excuse as if you know that you can’t spend enough quality time with your kids then why have them in the first place?
I have worked in government sectors before whereby staff slogged till 7pm daily and when I left work regularly at 6pm I was ticked off by my WDA director five years ago for being unproductive!
The government-led Institute of Policy Studies has also recently published a detailed convincing study pinpointing how many Singaporeans will be gone by a certain time frame if we don’t reproduce theemselves soon and how many foreigners or babies we need before we will all go extinct.
Of course, Singaporeans felt agitated when they are told that due to their own low birth rate , they are told to bear the consequences of having more foreigners taking over our jobs, housing, businesses and eventually the whole country.
Citizens felt besiged by foreign-speaking people in their own land and that is probably why locals prefer to bid up the COEs to six-figure sums than travelling in our MRT trains loaded with foreigners.
Even my foreign friends who are PRs here for decades told me that the place is not unliveable!
Singaporeans have never felt so unbelonged and detached in their whole life as they felt that they are being systematically replaced by foreign workers.
Besides seemingly solving the whole birth rate issue here for our government, foreigners also are brought in to solve a bigger issue for employers - cheap hard-working labour.
Foreigners are brought in on the cheap to perform menial work via the work permit system and head big corporations using the Employment Pass P1/P2.
Experienced well-educated Singaporeans have no choice but to bring their skills abroad where they are better recognised and appreciated – especially in third world countries.
The irony is employers have brought in managers from third world countries like Philippines, PRC China and India to replace them and their quality so far is suspect.
Nowadays, it is also common for our local workers to be the minority worker in the workforce as companies continue to hire cheaper and faster workers using all kinds of work permits available.
Singaporeans felt short-changed and betrayed when they have to report to a foreign manager who could not perform as well as the locals. They are enraged when foreign managers interviewed them and later chose someone of their own kind.
Our productivity has being slipping all this while when we mass-imported foreign workers into our work force and since when have you heard of the best productive worker tag being honoured on us anymore?
When I was still in my early thirties, I was proud to learn that Singaporeans have continously earned the rare honour of being the world’s most productive worker – outperforming workers from the US, Japan and Europe.
I remembered our comapny even threw a small party to celebrate that achievement. Now it felt like a far-fetched dream with so many underperforming foreigners helming the management seats.
Social disharmony increasing
My fear is that by parachuting in foreigners into our midst and trying to solve the population using the copy-and-paste method, we may end up having more porblems on our hands.
Social disharmony is at its worse and I agreed with our DPM Teo in his latest speech in New York during the recent Singapore Day that xenophobic tendencies are at its highest peak now.
Scuffles have broken out here and there during these past few years when foreigners and locals disagreed over simple matters like occupying MRT seats in our congested trains and a riot is also seen as imminent as so far the government does not seem to have a solid integration plan in place.
Moving forward, the country will enter into a state of tension and apprehension as it has never faced such a peculiar foreigner invasion before since independence.
It is anticipated that there will be more skirmishes involving dissatisfied Singaporeans who felt that foreigners have came and snatched away their jobs.
The Generation Y group may also be more daring and vocal in their expression when it comes to exhibiting anti-foreigner sentiments as when they enter the workforce , they will find that foreign bosses will be interviewing them for positions in the company and they will also have to work under them.
They will also blame their lost opportunities to the influx of foreign workers into the country.
Babyboomers who still need to pay for their mortgages and fund their children educational studies will also lay the blame on the government for allowing in too many foreigners but their dissatisfaction will likely be confined to the internet forums or ballot boxes.
It is however unlikely that we will see a full-scale riot occurring here as any open protest is still being banned by the authorities.
The government will probably face the wrath of the voters at the GE 2016 polls and may lose a few more seats in the process – the slide will however be negated by the 100,000 new citizens harvested during these five years.
By then, we may have close to 1.5 million foreigners in our midst comprising citizens, PRs and those who are on various kinds of work permits and the situation will be as tense as ever.
Written by: Gilbert Goh