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Creating good jobs for Singaporeans, population growth and foreign labour dominate first week of campaigning

PAP points to moves it has taken; opposition parties suggest limits to foreign workers, jobless benefits scheme, among others

Ensuring good jobs for Singaporeans, population growth and the dependence on foreign labour to drive economic growth are some of the key issues that were raised in the first four days of campaigning.


ENSURING good jobs for Singaporeans, population growth and the dependence on foreign labour to drive economic growth are some of the key issues that were raised in the first four days of campaigning.

Various parties also highlighted the importance of saving jobs and helping workers in this time of crisis.

In a video message on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said S$13 billion in new investments brought in by the Economic Development Board in the first quarter of this year would help to create several thousand jobs over the next few years.

He added that investors are confident that the Singapore government can get Singaporeans onboard with "policies that will grow the economy, attract talent and investment, and eventually create jobs for Singaporeans".

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He added: "In a crisis, it is even more critical for us to reinforce these fundamentals, in order to attract more investments and jobs to Singapore."

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also said measures would be taken over the next five years to transform and grow the economy so as to provide more good jobs for Singaporeans. "We must deepen our links with the world, work with like-minded partners to keep trade flowing and enable more businesses, including SMEs, to expand beyond our shores," he added. In Singapore, the focus would be on working together with companies to promote new growth areas.

Opposition parties, such as The Workers' Party (WP) touched on the need to support small-and-medium enterprises to grow by leveraging on cutting-edge technologies, while the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) mooted the idea of a national unemployment benefits programme aimed at helping retrenched workers.

This comes as the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the economy hard, with the government projecting that Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP) for the year could contract by between 4 and 7 per cent. In the first quarter, GDP shrank by 0.7 per cent, while total employment fell by 25,600 in Q1 in the biggest quarterly contraction to date.

To preserve jobs, the government is trying to create up to 100,000 work opportunities - which covers jobs, traineeships and placements - and has rolled out initiatives such as the multi-billion-dollar Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) with wage support to mitigate job losses.

Meanwhile, in a WP panel talk streamed on Facebook on Thursday, Marine Parade GRC candidate Yee Jenn Jong and Aljunied GRC candidate Gerald Giam said Singapore needs to improve productivity growth instead of relying on inexpensive foreign labour to drive GDP growth, like it has done in the past.

Mr Giam singled out Singapore's construction industry, which is lagging behind others here in terms of productivity growth. This can be overcome by leveraging on automation as well as making the industry more attractive to locals through better jobs and higher wages, he suggested.

While the cost of acquiring productivity enhancing equipment is a challenge for companies, the government could loan the equipment to construction companies so they don't have to purchase it themselves, Mr Giam added.

On the topic of foreign labour, Progress Singapore Party (PSP)'s vice-chair Hazel Poa argued that an influx of foreign workers in Singapore to fuel economic growth has depressed wages, while contributing to congestion on public transport and in public spaces.

The PSP is proposing a quota for Employment Passes, that the quotas for the S Pass and Work Permits be reduced, and that free trade agreements linked to labour, such as the Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), be reviewed.

CECA has been criticised by some for allowing inequitable flows of Indian nationals into Singapore for work.

Where population growth is concerned, the SDP and ruling People's Action Party (PAP) crossed swords after SDP chief Chee Soon Juan suggested that Mr Heng was toying with the idea of raising the population to 10 million.

The figure is part of the SDP's campaign slogan of "Four Yes, One No" in which the party says it is against the government's plan of a 10 million-strong population.

Mr Heng has hit back at Dr Chee for spreading falsehoods, disputing the claim that he said Singapore should plan to increase its population to 10 million.

He clarified that he was asked about the government's Population White Paper at a forum in 2019, where he mentioned that former chief planner Liu Thai Ker had said publicly that Singapore should plan for a higher number than up to 6.9 million as the White Paper stated the population could grow to by 2030.

"Far from endorsing this, I had explained our population size was not just about physical space but also about social space," Mr Heng wrote in a Facebook post. "If we look at today's situation, our population is likely to be significantly below 6.9 million by 2030."

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