The Workers’ Party Marine Parade Team – Constituency Political Broadcast 5 Jul 2020

Source: CNA
Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/ge2020-pap-candidates-for-marine-parade-grc-speak-in-12903712

Ron Tan Jun Yen

每个政治人物都必须要有责任感

因为政策的改变会影响人民的生活

我们也要照顾国家长远的未来

大家好, 我是陈俊元.

亲爱的马林百列集选区选民们,

工人党再次派出团队到这里,把马林百列,团结起来。

马林百列集选区在许多方面都是多样化的。

这些方面包括了地理、距离、您居住的屋子、以及您的年龄.

多样化能够聚成力量,而我们要把这种力量汇集起来。

从菜市区的甘榜精神,到如切的历史

从实乞纳的乡村风情,到实龙岗的繁忙

从乌美的工业区,到友诺士的邻里

从芽笼士乃的传统到加东的美食

让我们把马林百列,团结起来!

我们,工人党的马林百列集选区团队,会在国会里为您发声。

我们会提出对国家有关的课题,也会协助解决区内的问题

集合我们团队每个人所拥有的经验与知识,

我们会竭尽所能诺,为您服务。

像您一样,我们都是普通的新加坡人。

我们也经历过艰难的时刻,

知道跌倒之后该怎样才能重新爬起。

在马林百列集选区内,我们要把马林百列,团结起来。

我们要让您有塑造自己社区的权力。

我们会聆听您的声音,我们会跟随您的脚步,我们会与您同行。

让您的心声成就未来,让您想法成就未来。

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票!

谢谢!

Nathaniel Koh

Dear voters of Marine Parade GRC, my name is Nathaniel Koh.  

The Workers’ Party is here again to bring Marine Parade, Together.  

Marine Parade GRC is diverse in many ways.   

Geography, distance, what type of house you live, whether you’re young or young at heart.  

There is strength in diversity and we want to harness that strength.  

From the kampung spirit of Chai Chee to the history of Joo Chiat.  

From the village vibe of Siglap to the hustle of Serangoon.  

From the working heartland of Ubi to the neighbourliness of Eunos.  

From the heritage of Geylang Serai to the flavours of Katong.  

Let us bring Marine Parade, Together.  

We, the Workers’ Party candidates for Marine Parade GRC, will speak up for you in Parliament.    

We will speak up on national issues, and help you with your local ones.  

Collectively, we have the experience, expertise, and commitment to serve you.    

Like you, we are ordinary Singaporeans. We’ve been through hard times. We know what it’s like to fall and get back up.  

Within Marine Parade GRC, we want to bring Marine Parade, Together.  

We want to empower you to shape your community.    We will listen to you. We will be guided by you. We will walk with you.  

Make your voice count. Make your ideas count.  

Make your vote count. Vote for the Workers’ Party.

Azhar Latip

Salam sejahtera kepada para pengundi GRC Marine Parade  

Saya, Azhar Latip, calon Parti Pekerja bagi Kawasan GRC Marine Parade  

Parti Pekerja telah kembali sekali lagi dengan matlamat untuk bersama dengan anda  

GRC Marine Parade mempunyai kepelbagaian dari segi geography, jarak, seni bina, mahupun usia  

Dalam kepelbagaian terdapat kekuatan yang dapat kita manfaatkan  

Dari semangat kampung Chai Chee sehinggalah ke sejarah Joo Chiat,  

Dari getaran nadi Siglap sehinggalah kemeriahan Serangoon,  

Dari gerak nadi pekerja di Ubi sehingga ke semangat kejiranan Eunos,  

Dari warisan Geylang Serai sehinggalah keakraban Katong,  

Marilah kita Bersatu  

Kami calon Parti Pekerja bagi Kawasan GRC Marine Parade, berikrar untuk menjadi suara anda di parlimen.  

Kami akan mengetengahkan isu-isu kebangsaan dan membantu anda mengatasi isu- isu tempatan  

Berbekalkan pengalaman, kebolehan dan semangat yang jitu, Insyallalh kami boleh berkhidmat untuk anda  

Seperti anda, kami juga rakyat Singapura biasa. Kami faham cabaran yang anda lalui, dan kami bersedia untuk berkhidmat untuk membantu anda bangkit semula.  

Kami bersatu demi anda, untuk anda  

Penduduk GRC Marine Parade, anda berhak untuk membentuk masa depan anda Keluhan anda akan diambil kira. Anda tidak akan diabaikan.  

Suara dan pendapat anda menentukan hala tuju masyarakat dan negara kita  

Manfaatkan undi anda, undilah Parti Pekerja.

Fadli Fawzi

Dear voters of Marine Parade GRC,   My name is Fadli Fawzi.  

Voting for the Workers’ Party means having representatives in Parliament who would listen to you, care for you, and fight for you.   

This is our unwavering commitment.   

In this broadcast, I want to reassure the residents who are thinking of giving us a chance, but who may be anxious about the future of the estate under the Workers’ Party.   

I have served as a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for the past six years. Managing a Town Council, especially as the opposition, is indeed challenging. For one, we had to work harder with far fewer resources.   

We have learned a lot and grown from our experience. We are now better prepared to take over and run a Town Council effectively.   

We have also created a new accounting software system to help us manage Town Council matters.   

This will ensure that the handover process will be smooth and that services to residents will not be disrupted.  

So I promise the residents of Marine Parade: the estate will be kept clean, the lifts will work, and you will still get to enjoy the amenities in the neighbourhood.   

But the Workers’ Party wants to do more than just provide efficient municipal services.   

We want to build in Marine Parade a sense of community and belonging.    We want every single Marine Parade resident to feel that they matter.    

So let me share with you the Workers’ Party’s vision for Marine Parade.    We want to build a neighbourhood that is inclusive, cohesive, and accountable.  

First, inclusivity is about ensuring that each and every resident of Marine Parade is able to live with dignity.   

We will pay particular attention to the vulnerable and those with greater needs, especially the elderly and the disadvantaged.   

Second, cohesion means strengthening the community ethos between the residents and neighbours of Marine Parade.   

This will be a welcoming home for everyone, regardless of your ethnicity or religion, or even your political allegiance.   

Third, accountability reflects our pledge to be transparent and resident-centric on matters of estate governance.   

We will seek your civic participation in monthly town halls where we will listen to your thoughts about how to improve Marine Parade. These town halls will also create social capital in the community, making us more resilient in times of crisis.  

These three principles — inclusivity, cohesion, and accountability — are our guiding lights.   

Under the Workers’ Party, Marine Parade will not just be your home, but the neighbourly sanctuary that we all belong to: Marine Parade, Together.

So Make Your Vote Count and Vote for the Workers’ Party.

Yee Jenn Jong

大家好。我是余振忠. 我是一名教育企业家, 也曾当过非选区国会议员。

I am Yee Jenn Jong. I contested in Joo Chiat SMC and became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. I contested in Marine Parade GRC in 2015. I thank all the voters of Joo Chiat and Marine Parade who had supported the Workers’ Party since 2006.

The Workers’ Party is back, with yet another dedicated team. We have never left. Over the past few years, despite the challenges of not having been elected, we have initiated various community projects in this GRC. We continue to visit residents. We are touched by your encouragement and support.

You have heard from my team mates about our hopes for a better Singapore and a better Marine Parade, together. The now-daily 400 packs of food distribution that we have initiated since day 1 of the Circuit Breaker taught me that we can have ground up residents programme. The distribution is run by volunteers, some of them living in rental flats with a big heart to help their neighbours.

We can build a better Marine Parade, not just with infrastructure, but to invest in people so that initiatives can be ground-up, by Marine Parade residents, for Marine Parade residents.

The PAP has told you that Singapore only has enough talent for a team A, that only the PAP can run this place. My years of participation in the alternative camp tell me otherwise. Hougang and Aljunied are well maintained, just like any town in Singapore. The Workers’ Party has raised many issues in parliament and in a responsible way. Our proposals are made with serious thoughts.

I am concerned that the PAP has led us for the past 2 decades by simply injecting more capital and labour, especially low wage migrant workers without meaningful growth in productivity. This has led to an overcrowded Singapore, depressed wages for many of us, and vast inequality.

I am concerned that we have not adapted fast enough to industry disruptions. We have many retrenched PMETs. Many of us struggle with the high cost of living. 2 out of 3 working Singaporeans do not have enough savings for more than 6 months. It is as if we are two different countries in one small island.

The PAP does not have a monopoly of wisdom. Our team members are passionate, hardworking and resilient.

Ron has many years of experience serving in the grassroots in Aljunied. He served under Mr Low Thia Khiang for the past 3 years.

Nathaniel, an IT professional, has been with the Party for 11 years and is actively assisting Mr Pritam Singh.

Azhar had to take a year’s break from university to earn money for his school fees. He graduated from NUS, had a stable career. Then he lost a leg and his job after a nasty road accident. These did not kill his desire to want to be a voice for ordinary Singaporeans.

Fadli is driven by his passion to help the less fortunate. He switched to being a lawyer because he wants to be better equipped to champion for ordinary Singaporeans. He has been a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for 6 years.

Singapore needs MPs who can connect with the people, who cares deeply for them. We have the right team to be your voice in parliament and to manage this town.

The PAP wants 100% dominance of parliament. They tell you that you can have 12 NCMPs because they want to win it all. They want all 93 seats.

As a former NCMP, I tell you that this will not be the effective check against the PAP. They only fear when their vote share is low. Do not give the PAP a blank cheque.

Make your vote count. Vote The Workers’ Party.

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票。

GE2020 Constituency Political Broadcast – Yee JJ

大家好。我是余振忠. 我是一名教育企业家, 也曾当过非选区国会议员。

I am Yee Jenn Jong. I contested in Joo Chiat SMC and became a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament. I contested in Marine Parade GRC in 2015. I thank all the voters of Joo Chiat and Marine Parade who had supported the Workers’ Party since 2006.

The Workers’ Party is back, with yet another dedicated team.

We have never left. Over the past few years, despite the challenges of not having been elected, we have initiated various community projects in this GRC. We continue to visit residents. We are touched by your encouragement and support.

You have heard from my team mates about our hopes for a better Singapore and a better Marine Parade, together. The now-daily 400 packs of food distribution that we have initiated since day 1 of the Circuit Breaker taught me that we can have ground up residents programme. The distribution is run by volunteers, some of them living in rental flats with a big heart to help their neighbours. We can build a better Marine Parade, not just with infrastructure, but to invest in people so that initiatives can be ground-up, by Marine Parade residents, for Marine Parade residents.

The PAP has told you that Singapore only has enough talent for a team A, that only the PAP can run this place. My years of participation in the alternative camp tell me otherwise. Hougang and Aljunied are well maintained, just like any town in Singapore. The Workers’ Party has raised many issues in parliament and in a responsible way. Our proposals are made with serious thoughts.

I am concerned that the PAP has led us for the past 2 decades by simply injecting more capital and labour, especially low wage migrant workers without meaningful growth in productivity. This has led to an overcrowded Singapore, depressed wages for many of us, and vast inequality. I am concerned that we have not adapted fast enough to industry disruptions. We have many retrenched PMETs. Many of us struggle with the high cost of living. 2 out of 3 working Singaporeans do not have enough savings for more than 6 months. It is as if we are two different countries in one small island.

The PAP does not have a monopoly of wisdom. Our team members are passionate, hardworking and resilient.

Ron has many years of experience serving in the grassroots in Aljunied. He served under Mr Low Thia Khiang for the past 3 years. Nathaniel, an IT professional, has been with the Party for 11 years and is actively assisting Mr Pritam Singh. Azhar had to take a year’s break from university to earn money for his school fees. He graduated from NUS, had a stable career. Then he lost a leg and his job after a nasty road accident. These did not kill his desire to want to be a voice for ordinary Singaporeans. Fadli is driven by his passion to help the less fortunate. He switched to being a lawyer because he wants to be better equipped to champion for ordinary Singaporeans. He has been a Town Councillor in Aljunied-Hougang for 6 years.

Singapore needs MPs who can connect with the people, who cares deeply for them. We have the right team to be your voice in parliament and to manage this town.

The PAP wants 100% dominance of parliament. They tell you that you can have 12 NCMPs because they want to win it all. They want all 93 seats. As a former NCMP, I tell you that this will not be the effective check against the PAP. They only fear when their vote share is low. Do not give the PAP a blank cheque. Make your vote count. Vote The Workers’ Party.

让您的一票成就未来。请投工人党一票。

The Journey Continues

After a 5-day stay-home medical leave and with phase 2 re-opening of the Circuit Breaker, the journey continues.

This morning, it was attending to the daily cooked food distribution, now at three locations across the Marine Parade GRC, followed by a visit to a market. In the evening, it was house visits.

For the evening, I chose the spot right outside my house, within the now-defunct Joo Chiat SMC and in the Marine Parade GRC, to start off the daily visits to come.

Back where it all started in March 2011

I recall in 2011, I joined WP and was assigned to take on Joo Chiat SMC. I was new to political campaigning. I was new to the Party and did not know anyone well. I was assigned just one member, Shaun to be my Elections Agent.

And so I started, at this spot where we did our visits this evening. There were only Shaun and I on day 1. I did not even know what to say to the residents.

As the campaign of 2011 went on, I started to polish up my presentation to keep it short. I treated each person I meet as a 20-second elevator pitch. I wanted to explain why they should vote for WP and me, and to hopefully generate enough reasons from them within 20 seconds to consider giving us their vote, especially the swing voters. From just Shaun and I, we eventually grew to more than 40 people regularly helping when the campaign ended on 7 May 2011. Friends and relatives came along to help in the campaign. Then friends of friends and strangers, most of whom we met while on the campaign trail. Several stayed on even after the campaign had ended with a narrow 1% defeat. One of them is Dennis Tan, now a key member of the Party.

GE2020 will be so different. It is likely to come and go too quickly. There cannot be large numbers when we visit. We will not have time to visit many households given no visit was allowed during the two and a half month of the Circuit Breaker. Even the way we engage will be more distant than before. There will not be physical rallies.

But it will be an important GE. I joined in 2011 because I believe there must be a strong alternative. In business, we are told that we need anti-monopoly laws to keep companies innovative and responsive to the consumers. We want to prevent profiteering and exploitation. Yet in politics, we are told there can only be a team A. We cannot just rely on a team A and wish things will go well with Singapore forever. It takes a long time to build up a respectable, rational and responsible alternative. It takes many people of commitment and courage to take the difficult route. The PAP speaks of the ‘sacrifice’ their handpicked high flyers will have to make to take a pay-cut to join, or the loss of their privacy. After a long uninterrupted and very dominant rule since independence, they have forgotten what it is like to be on the other side; what it really means to take sacrifices and what loss of privacy means for some who had to face with smearing of their character.

The ruling party has said this is about the 4G and about Singapore’s future. Sure, it is important. It is also about defining the alternative, about the continuity of the alternative, about whether good men and women will continue to join the alternative, and about whether we can have a Singapore where we can thrive even with diversity of views.

Are we prepared to go back to the days with 100% PAP’s monopoly of parliament? As an ex-NCMP, I can tell you that the contest is not about having the alternative only as NCMPs. Being an NCMP means you have lost in the elections. You have no ground to sink your roots in. Constituencies that are narrowly lost can be reconfigured just before a GE with the snap of a finger. You face big hurdles in how you can serve the people who have voted for you. The PAP will definitely wish for a parliament with 12 NCMPs. It will mean a total loss for alternatives, yes even Hougang and Aljunied can be lost. The PAP came quite close to achieving that in 2015. A pandemic GE is now a good opportunity for them to push for that scenario.

The journey towards a first world parliament that began in 2011 continues. What Singapore do you envisage? The choice is for Singaporeans to make.

A long walk into this house
Deciding on the alternative

Accounting for how $93 billion is being spent

Mr Han Fook Kwang, Editor-at-Large for the Straits Times wrote a good piece “Covid-19: Make sure the $93b is well spent”.

He made several strong points. Here is an extract from his piece on one part which I wish to follow up on:

“President Halimah Yacob’s in-principle approval was sought and granted for past reserves to be used. …

Approving the use of the reserves is an important task, but it is also equally critical to make sure that it was used for their intended purposes.

Do the elected presidency (EP) and CPA have these monitoring powers? I could not find anything in the Constitution regarding this. But it seems to me that some review has to follow.

If you approve funds for a particular scheme, you should want to know its result, and what action was taken if it did not achieve its objective or fell short. …

The EP’s primary role as a second key safeguarding the country’s reserves is intended to prevent a future rogue government from raiding it. To do this job well, it should have some review powers over whether those funds were used for the purposes which it had approved and if they had achieved their objectives.”

These were questions I had too. And my WP colleagues in parliament covered some of these quite well already in the debate on the fourth budget, the Fortitude Budget. A summary is here by a former senior leader with The Straits Times, Tan Bah Bah: “Faisal Manap: Did in-principle President Halimah Yacob know the exact amount of our reserves?”

The government’s reply? “I am surprised that both Mr Faisal and Mr Dennis Tan had to ask. It is public information that under our Constitution, the President has access to information about the size of reserves. Under Article 22F of the Constitution, in the exercise of her functions under the Constitution, the President is entitled to any information regarding the reserves. In addition, on the MOF website, it is already mentioned that the President has full information about the size of the reserves.”

Well done then. So it will not take the Accountant-General “52 man-years” to produce the list of physical assets of the Government, something which our first (oops, second – things are sometimes confusing in Singapore) Elected President, the late Mr Ong Teng Cheong had to struggle with the Government on. I am not sure if he ever got his answer.

The mystery of the size of our reserves aside, Mr Han raised the important question of accountability in the way money is spent. No one will question that we need an extraordinary budget to deal with a major global crisis that will impact jobs and lives. Speed is important as the crisis is immediate and widespread. All four budgets were approved in quick time. The combined size of our response to Covid-19 is nearly double the annual government budget. How well will the money be spent? How effective have they been to address the situations they were intended for?

These are important questions because we will need to know for better response to a future crisis on this magnitude. Could the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) be better designed? Companies that continued to do well or even better during this period, such as the supermarkets, got the JSS too. Some companies have stepped forward to return the money or donate them to charity. Yet, many companies continue to close even with JSS. Jobs continue to be lost. There is no perfect solution. Some form of JSS is necessary, but some post-mortem certainly can be done. How well did the major recipients of the funds respond? Mr Han cited the aviation sector. Yes, they need help for sure. How did they use the money and were they effective? We do not know how much the government has and will continue to spend on fighting the explosive spread of Covid-19 in the crowded foreign employees dormitories. Did we fairly apportion enough of the huge intervention costs to the dorm operators? Did we let off too easily the operators who have not done well in implementing measures to manage epidemic which they should have been doing? Did we execute the rent relief properly such that the money did flow down fast enough to tenants? The list goes on.

The President approved $52 billion from the reserves (the balance are from budget surplus and from borrowings which have to be repaid by the next government). What roles will the President have in scrutinizing how well the money have been spent and how effective the schemes have been. I hope it will be a big and important role. ‘Ownself check ownself’ is not always the best.

Singapore’s Post Covid-19 Future

Prime Minister Lee addressed the nation yesterday on Singapore’s future in a post COVID-19 world. His speech is the first in a series of national broadcasts with five other Cabinet ministers laying out future plans for the country.

I have a few areas which I’d like to see for Singapore post Covid-19.

(1) First is on domestic wage reforms. Business leader Ho Kwon Ping brought this issue up in an IPS talk in 2012. He presented data in a refreshing way. Ho asked IPS to compile data on the wages of various professions across 9 of the most developed economies in the world.

The finding? Singapore is the MOST UNEQUAL of all developed nations. On average, we pay doctors about four times more than nurses and 11 times more than construction workers. Doctors represent the top end of professional work, nurses the middle range and construction workers represent the low wage. In other developed countries, the disparity is far smaller. Doctors and lawyers were paid slightly better in Singapore than the average elsewhere but the startling fact was how badly we paid the low wage workers. In Germany and Australia, a construction worker is paid HALF that of the average doctor! Hong Kong, a small and open economy like ours, paid nurses a third that of doctors. Construction workers earned a quarter that of doctors!

Ho called it the incomplete wage revolution. It began in the 1980s as we reformed the export-oriented industries. Factories that relied on low wage workers shifted out. We had to move up the value-added chain with higher wages. Today, we have high value-added export and services industries that pay decent wages. The trouble was with our domestic industries. There are some industries that cannot be shifted out – we will need to have cleaners, gardeners, security guards, construction workers and retail assistants in Singapore. Instead of also increasing wages gradually and allowing companies to figure how to make workers progressively more productive, we had large-scale import of low wage migrant workers. The situation started to explode in the 1990s where we grew from 311,000 migrant workers in 1990 to over 1.42 million by 2019, the vast majority of whom are low wage. Foreign workers account for 38% of our workforce today, stretching the limits which a small country like Singapore can take.

The large influx of migrant workers over such a sustained period depressed the wages of local low skilled workers who had remained in the domestic industries. Employers continued to fill with migrant workers as the demand went up. Levies started increasing when the government wanted to force companies to hire locals and be less reliant on foreigners. I believe many of the measures were done too late. We were already having many low wage migrant workers willing to work for very little. The better and more experienced migrant workers can find better paying jobs in other countries. The higher levies and accommodation costs made businesses look for cheaper workers, never mind that their skill levels are not there and that they do not speak much English.

In two of my earlier blog posts, I recounted this 3-decade journey of large influx of migrant workers and some solutions we can look at using the construction sector as an example.

Today, Singapore face a rapidly changing world with lots of technology disruptions and with our neighbours also hungry for success. We are now presented with the disruptions due to the pandemic. We have China and USA on hostile relationship that is impacting world trade. These are all known facts. Even before the pandemic started, we were already seeing higher retrenchments amongst PMETs and challenging operating environment for our companies. There is mismatch between training and employment opportunities. With the pandemic, more jobs will be lost. More companies will close down.

We can use this current period of job stresses to transform certain domestic industries. It will take big government interventions but we can make certain jobs more viable for Singaporeans, to progressively pay better for technical skills like in other developed economies, and to gradually move the industry up the productivity path. We should seriously state our intent by setting Minimum Wages. We want to match the Swiss standard of living but our model for growth had so far been that of Dubai’s and not Switzerland’s.

(2) I am concerned as to our strategy on low wage migrant workers. This is an old issue, raised by experts from time to time. Even our founding leaders such as the late Dr Goh Keng Swee and the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had warned about becoming over-reliant on migrant workers or having too many of them. We have blown past all the numbers they had warned about. In the 2013 Population White Paper debate, we were told to accept 1-2% increase in migrant workers each year or face economic decline. The numbers continue to rise after that debate. We could reach 6.9 million population in 10 years’ time and far more after that. This would result in a society with much higher income and wealth inequality, higher pandemic risks, as well as probably much higher xenophobia, social divisions, overcrowding, less social well-being and less social capital and national solidarity. 

Beyond providing better accommodation, we need to look at how to bring in more productive foreign workers so that we can have a better starting base and can pay them better. I am not an expert. I suspect there are lots of low hanging fruits we can pluck by first recruiting better. Currently, the middleman makes big bucks bringing able-bodied workers in from low wage countries willing to pay the huge fees to come to Singapore. Many may not have relevant skills. Many come saddled with debts, desperately afraid of being sent back home.

Singapore has done some small scale setting up of ITE-type of training in neighbouring countries on government to government relationship. I think if we can look at places where we recruit large number of migrant workers. We can put our vocational training expertise to good use. If we can have more productive workers already trained at source; familiar with the tools, processes and automation needed in Singapore, I believe we can jump start productivity. Having such institutions at source can also offer better transparency and links for recruitment. The implementation may need more thoughts and strong government backing to be workable. I think this can uplift productivity and wages at the low end, and allow us to do with fewer numbers of workers. And I believe that if we can build up a strong pipeline of skilled overseas workers, coupled with aggressive investment in better construction processes and automation, we might even be able to create globally competitive Singapore construction companies.

The welfare of workers can also be better taken care of. We can think of careers for them to move upwards while in Singapore. A few months ago, I came across a former foreign domestic worker who did part time studies in early childhood when in Singapore (she had a very supporter employer), and is now a trained preschool teacher here after finishing her domestic helper contract. Such stories are few and far in between. Most come, work hard with outdated and low productivity methods and return home with some savings to do other things. I believe few low wage migrant workers make it up the career ladder in Singapore. Many years ago, Singapore thrived because we provided opportunities for our low wage migrant workers. The innovative and hardworking ones climbed in their career and even start businesses in Singapore. Many of our big local institutions had started that way.

(3) We need to free up the Singapore spirit. We are victim of our past successes – we have grown risk averse. We celebrate innovation only when it meets the government’s agenda but clamp down on alternative views. I wrote about this last month – Monopoly of wisdom will cripple Singapore. I cited Sonny Liew as an example.

Be open. Be free spirited. Be bold. Our past leaders were so. PM Lee’s speech yesterday recounted how Singapore had overcome. Yes, we did. We overcame the lack of an armed forces with a modern force built on national service and modernisation. We overcame housing problem by being socialist – mass land acquisition from the rich and building HDB flats for as many Singaporeans as possible. We cleaned up the Singapore river, and more. Sure, we can do it again. There was boldness in the early leaders. There were no past successes to safeguard, only a future to aim towards. Bold ideas had to be tried.

These days, I noticed that many have become afraid to take risk. There are tried and tested ways to succeed. Just follow rules. Leaders in the government service or political office bearers are rotated frequently. We become wary of projects that may take years to see results or that cut across ministries or are seen as ‘risky’. We become afraid to let smaller start-ups have a go at projects in case we have to answer if projects fail. We award at higher costs to companies with big names so that if they fail, it will not be the fault of the evaluation team.

If we are to build world leading companies, to pioneer big brands that can fly the Singapore flag all over the world, we need to free up our spirit, not mute it. Our reforms cannot start only when Singaporeans enter the workforce. It must start from school. In education, we are again victims of our past successes. Our schools were earlier reformed to make the education processes more efficient to train up workers for incoming investments and to fill up jobs. We thought we had figured out the formula for sorting out students by abilities and then fast track them along career paths. We cannot rely on model answers, for the new world economy may not conform to known models. We need to celebrate ambiguity in education. We need students to be bold to ask questions. We need them to create.

(4) I believe Singaporeans are resilient. In recent years, with the growing mismatch between jobs and training, more have switched to the gig economy. Food delivery and private hire driving are not easy work. Yet PMET Singaporeans, many retrenched or in low paying jobs, turned to these trades to find a way to make a living. We will need to reclaim PMET jobs for Singaporeans and to work out viable career paths for Singaporeans in domestic industries, many of which are too low-paying to sustain the high costs of living in Singapore.

Being more resilient also means better preparedness in food and other supplies. Yes, it is great that we have Polish eggs and Arabian shrimps. MTI is doing right by seeking new sources of food and essential supplies. I think it would be just as great if Temasek takes the lead to invest aggressively so that we own critical food sources overseas. Sure, we might still be hit with supply restrictions such as what had happened over masks in Taiwan recently. To overcome our smallness in size, we may need to expand more aggressively into ownership of critical resources outside of Singapore.

Let’s look forward to a more resilient, more creative, more productive and more egalitarian Singapore post Covid-19.

Note: The views are that of the author. I had an earlier discussion with Ku Swee Yong where we found that we share similar ideas about having some ITE-type institutions in countries with large number of migrant workers bound for Singapore.

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探讨部长对新加坡建筑业的看法

□ 余振忠

上周,贸工部长陈振声问:新加坡是否愿意接受每年在这里出生的2500个婴儿长大后成为建筑工人

他的假设是:新加坡目前有30万外籍建筑工人。新加坡工人的生产力能达到外籍工人的三倍,那么我们将需要10万名新加坡工人来取代。假设我们要在40年内让新加坡工人取代外籍工人,我们每年将需要2,500个孩子,占每年约8%的本地出生的婴儿。

他认为,由于我们国家小又缺乏自然资源,新加坡不能像其他国家那样减少外籍工人。

部长似乎在暗示,我国高度依赖外籍工人的情况是不可避免的。几周前,我写了一篇关于新加坡迈向近150万客工的旅程的文章,详细介绍了过去30年外籍工人人数迅速增长的经过。我将在本文中回应部长。

让我们查核部长的论点。

(一)部长的那套计算法的基础是让本地工人完全取代建筑业内所有的外籍工人。我们并没有要求完全取代所有的外籍工人。我们呼吁的是停止过度依赖外籍工人,停止不断增加外籍工人的人数。我们呼吁采取经过深思的有效方法来纠正这个偏差,并认真地使从事于建筑业成为 新加坡人可行的一个选择,从而使建筑业内的新加坡人人数量显著增加。

在新加坡人眼中,建筑业的形象已经很糟糕了. 一提起建筑业我们就只能想到低工资和低技术客工. 部长的这番话对建筑行业的形象一点帮助也没有。现实情况是,在许多其他地方,拥有从事艰苦的工作的技能,是可以赚取不错的报酬。在日本,澳洲,瑞士或芬兰,当地人并不拒绝许多这方面的工作。建筑行业内有些工作其实需要拥有熟练技术和经过专门训练的。

(二)部长同时也假设新加坡建筑工人的生产力是外籍建筑工人的三倍。这个数字可能是来自全球建筑业界内最佳例子,例如在澳洲和日本这样的地方,当地人的生产力确实比目前新加坡的建筑工人高出三倍或更多

这的确是一个很大的假设。与其他发达国家相比,我国目前的生产率还差得远。为什么我们还不设法让新加坡人进入这个行业?随着我国的经济在1990年代开始扩大,新加坡选择了与其他发达国家不同的道路。企业家沈锐华(Jack Sim)最近在他的脸书帖子中分享了一些有趣的观察。沈锐华分享说,当他在1979年踏入建筑业时,这个行业内的职位分为以下的类别:非常熟练的“大工”(Master Craftsmen)、训练有素的“中工”(Skilled Craftsmen)和学工(Apprentice)。 沈锐华感叹道来自上海的大工都已经逝世了。新加坡本土的大工退休了。马来西亚的大工已经回国。取代他们的泰国人也已经回国。日本人和韩国人也同样已经回国了。他观察到,新加坡开始引进许多“从未干过一天建筑活儿”的人。建筑客工的工资虽然很低,但是由于要缴交高额的劳工税和提供住宿的费用,雇主的成本却不低。如此大规模地雇用低薪工人代替熟练工人的结果是令本地人对这些工作没有兴趣。

今天,与发达国家相比,新加坡建筑工人的生产力相形见绌。想要让新加坡建筑工人的生产力比外籍建筑工人高三倍,说归说,然而要做却是另一回事. 澳洲和日本取得的成就是经过一番长久的努力。

(三)接下来,让我们研究在那些当地人参与度高和生产力高的国家,对建筑成本有什么样的影响。部长指出:“在许多其他国家,部分建筑业的工作由当地工人来做。在某些情况下,这会导致聘用这些当地工人的成本变得相对昂贵;在其他情况下,由于缺乏人力,建筑项目需要更长的时间才能完成。”

在《 2019年特纳唐逊国际建筑市场调查》(图表摘录如下)中,我们发现新加坡、澳洲和纽西兰的城市与东京之间类型相似的建筑项目的成本相差不大。另一份利比(Rider Levett Bucknall)2016年国际建筑市场的报告中,以每平方米总建筑面积计算的建筑成本,新加坡和澳洲城市之间的总建筑成本非常相似。一名澳洲建筑工人的平均年收入为63,830澳元。新加坡的建筑工人能得到多少?

资料来源:2019年特纳唐逊国际建筑市场调查(第17页)

 

资料来源:摘自利比国际建筑市场情报(2016年第三季度)。请注意,在进行建筑成本比较时,价格以当地货币(澳元、纽西兰元和新元)为准。

如果我们看看日本,他们的建筑程序是高度紧密结合为一和非常高效率的。根据日本建设情报中心基金会称,该行业存在紧密的整合。当基础工程施工完成后,下一个进行结构工程的团队在第二天就立即开始施工。他们的项目策划管理系统可以让各个承包工程的公司之间交换信息。在日本,他们还需要建造可以抵抗地震和台风的建筑物,这就比在新加坡建筑更具挑战性。然而,它们的总体建筑成本却可以与新加坡相差不大。

给当地工人支付较高的工资没有导致总体成本过高。杰出商人和酒店业巨头何光平在2011年的一次采访中分享说,他的公司在澳洲、纽西兰和泰国等地都有建筑开发的经验。他感到震惊的是:当他们在纽西兰建造酒店时所雇用的工人数量大约是他们在泰国建造酒店时所雇用的10%,因为这些工人受过良好的训练。

(四)部长说新加坡人口少,这是正确的。然而,纽西兰、瑞士、芬兰、香港和其他一些小的发达国家亦然,在这些国家当地人从事建筑业的比例高。部长还说:“如果我们在这场相对游戏中失败,那不幸的是,我认为新加坡的未来将不会像我们期望的那样。”在以上所提到的国家当中,有些还是非常具有全球竞争力的,尽管这些国家的建筑业主要由当地人从事。实际上,这其中一些国家正在与新加坡激烈竞争,以成为区域中心和金融中心。

那我们能做些什么呢?我们不能等市场进行自我调整。我以学前教育行业和护理行业为例,来加以说明。

在2000年代,学前教育行业并不受年轻的新加坡人所欢迎。员工流动率很高,很难吸引优秀的本地人加入该行业。由于雇主找不到本地人,外籍教师越来越多。 2011年之后,政府改变了观念。全国推动了学前教育业的发展,同时政府也开办幼儿园,为职前和在职教师提供大量培训机会和奖学金,将教育部和社会及家庭发展部负责学前教育的部门合并为一个机构(新加坡幼儿培育署),并提供了更多资金。

政府大力推动的结果是:如今的学前教育行业吸引了年轻的新加坡人。现在有良好的职业前景。就说我的女儿吧,她决定在理工学院选择修读幼儿教育,因为她能够获得奖学金而且从事学前教育的工作稳定。她发现自己喜欢上这个行业,并且一直留在这个工作岗位,并且在同一个专科进一步深造。 

我的侄女是一名护士。她的A水准成绩优异,她选择了护理课程。护理行业之前也是一个形象不太好而且薪金低的行业。经过新加坡工艺教育学院、理工学院和大学在一起努力大力发展该行业,加上提供奖学金,更高的薪金和改善就业前景,再加上积极的推广,年轻的本地人再次踏入这个行业。

 如今,每当有人谈论说我们过于依赖客工时,行业协会都会迅速做出回应,说削减客工将扼杀企业和破坏经济。他们并不完全错。我们的情况已经变得如此糟糕,我们不能仅依靠市场来做调整。我们不能仅要求雇主提高工人的生产力,减少客工,自己想办法雇用新加坡人。尝试这样做的公司可能会在短期内发现自己因为成本价格太高被淘汰出局。我们需要一个行业一个行业来改革:改革那些生产力低的行业,改革那些工人大部分未受过训练的行业,及那些新加坡人没有兴趣从事的行业。整个系统多个环节都损坏了。我们需要政府在国家的层面大力推动解决这一问题,包括在多个领域发挥领导作用。外籍工人的招聘和培训方面一团糟。工人们掏出大笔钱来到这里,背负着沉重的债务,而中间人赚了大钱。许多人甚至没有在自己的国家从事建筑或在相关的行业的工作过。宿舍经营者给他们提供很多人都认为拥挤不堪和条件相对差的住宿,赚取丰厚的利润。

随着我们扩大经济,新加坡采取了与其他经济体不同的道路。澳洲、纽西兰、日本、香港、瑞士、芬兰和许多其他发达经济体并不特别依赖低工资的客工,尤其是在建筑业。在这个行业,工人可以得到像样的薪金,受过更好的培训,生产力更高,同时可以更好地操作自动化机械。这些都是经过多年方取得的成效, 因为那些国家的政府打从一开始就决定不能依赖低成本的客工。

为了纠正新加坡数年来对这方面的忽视,我们不能仅要求市场自我调整。私营公司被迫接受当前的状况,因为他们本身都无法改变整个大局。这是我的建议:

(一)意识到我们有一个深刻而迫切的问题需要立即采取行动。

(二)市场已经无法解决这个超大的问题,甚至行业协会也无法解决。

(三)正如我们为其他行业所做的一样,我们必须全国一致做出很大的努力。这比学前教育或护理要复杂得多。

(四)重新使建筑业成为新加坡人愿意从事的职业,从学校开始,提供像样的薪金,提供奖学金,职业前景,在开始的阶段为新加坡人提供某种工资补贴,等方面着手。

(五)政府可能需要在国家层面做出一些干预,例如招聘客工,培训(甚至在客工的本国),宿舍等。向日本人学习如何将整个项目管理流程整合在一起,利用科技来实现施工团队和承包项目的公司之间的快速交接。

(六)最后,由于数十年来的忽视而造成的这种严重的情况,需要花数年的时间来解决,必须通过跨部门和专属的机构来负责推动。

我不是这个行业的专家。我收集来自世界各地的数据,来探究我们给自己制造的问题,提出我的看法。要纠正我们过分依赖低薪客工走错的路,将需要很多年。我们为自己能聘请到世界上最好的A团队来当政府而感到自豪(并不断提醒我们新加坡是永远不可能有B团队的)。我们为自己计划未来的20、50,甚至100年而感到自豪。

但是,以日本、澳洲和欧洲等其他发达国家的经验表明,拥有一个由多数当地人从事,并且是高技能高生产力的建筑业是可行的。他们的工人可以获得合理的薪金,从事建筑工作是一种有技能且受人尊敬的职业。尽管我们可能要花很多年才能做到,但很显然的政府需要协调工业改革。

这次冠病危机凸显了政府必须为建筑业和其他行业做重要和长远的改革,纠正我们使用了错误的劳力密集的增长政策,造成了低工资行业,过于依赖客工,也使到一群新加坡工人的工资偏低。

我们需要大刀阔斧改革,而不是用一些似是而非的假设和花言巧语来把问题撇开,等下一代来解决。

注意:这里表达的是作者的观点。

(original English version is here)

Examining the Minister’s take on Singapore’s construction sector

Last week,  Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing asked if Singapore was prepared to have 2,500 babies born here every year grow up to be construction workers?

He explained his calculations as follow: Singapore now has 300,000 construction workers. IF a Singaporean is three times as productive, then we will need 100,000 Singaporean workers. And over a 40-year period with Singaporeans replacing the foreign workers, we will need 2,500 a year, or about 8% of our babies each year.

He argued that therefore Singapore cannot cut down on foreign workers as other countries had because of our small size and lack of natural resources.

The Minister seems to suggest that this high reliance on foreign workers situation is inevitable. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Singapore’s journey to nearly 1.5 million migrant workers detailing the 30 years journey we took that saw this rapid explosion in number of foreign workers, especially the low wage workers. I will leave you to read that and will focus on looking at the construction sector in response to the Minister’s statement.

Let’s look at the Minister’s reasoning.

(1) The Minister has a way of exaggerating. His mathematics is based on 100% replacement of all workers in the construction sector by locals. Singaporeans are practical people. We are not calling for total replacement. We are calling a stop to this over reliance and ever-increasing number of migrant workers. We are calling for deliberate steps to correct the process and to seriously make careers in construction viable for Singaporeans so a more sizeable number can be in the industry.

The Minister’s question and the tone of it seems to make construction as a shunned career. It sadly adds to the poor image the industry is already having because we can only think of the low wage and low skilled migrant workers. The reality in many places is that skills in a strenuous job can pay well. Many of these jobs are not shunned by the locals in say Japan, Australia, Switzerland or Finland. And some aspects of the construction sector do include skilled specialists and trained experts.

(2) The Minister assumed that Singapore construction workers can eventually be three times as productive as currently. This figure is probably arrived at by looking at the best in class, where in places like Australia and Japan, the locals are indeed three times or more productive than a construction worker in Singapore currently.

It is a big ‘IF’. We are currently so far off the chart in productivity compared to other developed countries. Why are we not even attracting Singaporeans into this industry?

Singapore took a different path from other developed countries as we started to prosper in the 1990s. Entrepreneur Jack Sim shared some interesting observations in his Facebook post recently. Jack shared that when he started in the construction industry in 1979, there were very skilled Master Craftsmen, trained Skilled Craftsmen and Apprentices. Jack lamented that ‘the Shanghainese Masters have now passed away. The Singaporeans Master retired. The Malaysian Masters have returned home. The Thais who replaced them also returned home. The Japanese and Korean have also returned home.’ He observed that Singapore started to bring in many who ‘have never done a day of Construction work’. Jack Sim’s presentation involves some generalisation but we can all relate to our present-day situation. The salaries of the migrant workers in construction are low but the cost to employers is not low because of huge levies and accommodation costs. The effect of such a large-scale replacement of skilled craftsmen with low wage workers effectively made these jobs unattractive to locals.

Today, it is a fact that the productivity of construction workers in Singapore pales in comparison to locals in developed countries. We can only compare ourselves with our ASEAN neighbours. It is one thing to say in theory about how productive Singaporeans can be but another thing to do so in practice because what Australia and Japan have achieved took tremendous efforts. Where are we in this process today?

(3) Next, let’s examine the effect on construction cost in countries with high local participation and high-productivity. The Minister noted that ‘in many other countries, a proportion of local workers is allocated to the construction industry. In some cases, this leads to these workers becoming more expensive, and in other cases, projects take much longer to complete due to the lack of manpower.’

In the Turner & Townsend International Construction Market Survey 2019 (report available upon submission of request to company, relevant figure extracted below), we find that the construction cost of comparable projects are quite similar between Singapore, Australian and New Zealand cities and Tokyo. In another report by Rider Levett Bucknall on the international construction market 2016 (figure extracted below), the cost per sqm of gross floor area shows that total cost is quite similar between Singapore and Australian cities. An Australian construction worker earns an average of AUD$63,830 per annum. How much do construction workers in Singapore get?

Source: Turner & Townsend International Construction Market Survey 2019 (pg 17)

Source: extracted from Rider Levett Bucknall International Report on Construction Market Intelligence (3Q 2016). Note that prices are in local currencies AUD, NZD and SGD when comparing across Australia, NZ and Singapore.

If we look at Japan, their processes in construction are highly integrated and efficient. According to the Japan Construction Information Center Foundation, there is tight integration in the industry. When the construction specialist for foundation works is done, almost without delay the next team doing structure can be onsite the following day to start work. Their planning and project management tools can talk across companies. They also need to construct to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, which makes it a lot more challenging than construction in Singapore. Yet their overall construction costs are comparable to Singapore as well.

Higher wages local workers may not lead to much higher overall costs. Top local businessman and hotel magnate Ho Kwon Ping shared in an interview in 2011 that his company has construction development experience in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and so on. He was shocked that when they built their hotel in New Zealand, the number of workers they had to engaged was about 10 percent of what they did in Thailand — because the workers were well trained.

(4) The Minister is correct to say that Singapore has a small population. Well, so do New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Hong Kong and other small developed countries with high local participation in construction. The Minister also said, “If we lose out in that relative game compared to other people, then unfortunately, I think the future of Singapore will not be what we expect it to be.”

Some of these countries are globally competitive too despite relying mostly on locals for their construction industry. Some are in fact competing fiercely with Singapore to be regional hub and to be a financial centre.

Having said all these, what can we do now? I believe we cannot leave it to the market to correct itself. I recently shared in my Facebook about the preschool sector which I am more familiar with. I will use this as an example.

I recall in the 2000s, the preschool sector was shunned by young Singaporeans. In 2007, I was invited to be on a national workgroup on education and human capital. At the first meeting, we were discussing possible areas for the committee to focus on during our two-year term. Many topics from K-12 and higher learning were discussed.

Then I shared a story. My wife met by chance a former staff of a preschool we had previously operated. The teacher had already attained diploma in teaching and in leadership and was a senior teacher with us until we sold our centre. My wife had not met her for several years and asked where she was working at then. She had become a masseur and her basic pay as a rookie was already higher than what she commanded as a senior teacher after more than 10 years in the industry and after having gone for the training required for the industry.

Those who were not in the industry in the committee were shocked. They probed further about pay and prospects in the sector. In the committee, we had another long-time leader in the industry. She confirmed the situation and added her own stories. Staff turnover was high and it was tough to attract good locals to the sector. There were increasingly more foreign teachers in the sector as employers could not find locals. That sharing decided what we were to focus on for our committee’s term. Several bold recommendations were made after extensive research into the sector. Unfortunately, the government was not ready then for these changes. It was only after 2011 that a national drive was put into the sector, including the government running their own kindergartens, massive training and scholarship opportunities for pre-service and in-service teachers, merging of MOE and MSF preschool sectors into an agency (ECDA) and lots more funding. All these were actually recommended by our committee earlier and the boldest and what we felt were most necessary of our recommendations, were then turned down.

The effect of the massive government push is that the preschool sector today attracts young Singaporeans. There are now good career prospects. My daughter for one, decided to take up early childhood on her own when choosing what to study at the polytechnic. She was attracted to the scholarship for her studies and the security of the job. She found that she liked the industry and has stayed on and even went for further studies in the same field.

My niece is a nurse. She had excellent A levels results but she chose nursing. This was another industry that used to suffer from poor image and low pay. After much concerted effort at developing the industry at the ITE, polytechnics and universities level, added with scholarships, better pay and improved career prospects, coupled with aggressive marketing, young locals are moving into this industry once more. Even the SAF used to be unable to attract people until it was rebranded and career prospects became better.

Today, when there is talk that we have become too reliant on migrant workers, the industry associations quickly responded to say that cutting down on migrant workers would kill businesses and destroy the economy. They are not totally wrong. The situation has become so bad that we cannot just leave it to the market to correct itself. We cannot just tell employers to be more productive with their workers, cut staffing and to find their own ways to hire Singaporeans. The companies that try to do this now may find themselves priced out of business in the short run. We will need to tackle sector by sector, those sectors with low productivity, mostly untrained workers and low take up interest from Singaporeans. Many aspects of the whole system are broken. We need to fix it at the national level with a big push from the government side, including perhaps to take the lead in several areas. The recruitment and training aspects for foreign workers is messed up. Middleman make huge money and the workers coughed up large sums to come here, laden with debts. Many have not even worked in construction or the trade they are recruited for in their own country. Dormitory operators make huge profits housing migrant workers in what many consider as crowded and relatively poor living conditions.

Singapore had taken a different path from other economies as we started to prosper. Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Finland, and many other developed economies do not have this huge reliance on low cost migrant workers, such as in construction. There is decent pay for their locals in the sector and they are better trained, more productive and manage automation better. These have evolved over the years because their government had decided that they cannot rely on low cost migrant workers from the start. To correct decades of neglect in Singapore, we cannot just ask the market to correct itself. Private companies are forced to accept the current market situation because each by itself cannot correct the industry. For years, the preschool sector could not correct itself and was moving towards the path of large number of foreign teachers, poor pay relative to peers, and low interest by locals to be preschool teachers. Painful and difficult though it might be, the situation has to be changed with major government interventions.

In case I am being accused of simplifying the problem, I acknowledge that this is a monster of a problem to solve, way more difficult than the other sectors I had cited. I am not an expert in this industry. I am gleaning data from around the world to look at the problem we have created for ourselves in order to offer my views. It will take many years to correct the unfortunate path we had taken to become too overly dependent on low wage migrant workers. We pride ourselves to pay the best in the world to have the Team A in government (and with constant reminders that Singapore can never have a Team B). We pride ourselves to plan 20, 50 and even 100 years down the road.

But the experience of other developed countries like Japan, Australia and Europe shows us it is possible to have a higher skilled, more productive, largely locally-manned construction industry that pays decent wages and where construction work is a skilled and respectable profession. While we may take years to get there, it is clear that it will take a concerted industrial upgrading effort by government to do so. If anything, this Covid-19 crisis has underlined the important strategic need to do so both in construction and in other industries which have through our misplaced labour intensive growth policy, created a low wage industry far too dependent on migrant foreign workers and low wages for working class Singaporeans.

We need to start somewhere and start it in a massive and decisive way. Let’s not use mathematics and rhetoric to brush the problem aside for the next generation to solve.

Note: Written by Yee Jenn Jong. The views expressed here are that of the author.

——— Additional notes ——-

In response to some online comments on my FB post, I decided to summarise the solutions. I am posting them here for those who are interested to follow up on what solutions we can have. As mentioned, these are purely my personal views on a topic I had become interested in since the 2013 Population White Paper Debate when I had the chance to look deeper into the numbers and speak with experts.

(1) Recognise we have a deep and urgent problem that requires immediate attention.

(2) Market cannot resolve this mega problem anymore. Not even the industry association can solve this.

(3) As what had been done in other industries, it has to be a big national effort. This is way more complex than preschool or nursing.

(4) Make construction viable as a career for Singaporeans again – start at the schooling level. Make pay decent enough, and even support with scholarships, career pathways, some sort of wage subsidies for Singaporeans in initial phase, etc.

(5) government may need to intervene in some of the processes at national level such as recruitment, training (even at source countries), dormitories, etc. Learn from the Japanese how they integrate the whole project management processes for swift handover between teams and companies on a project with technology.

(6) Lastly, the gravity of this situation due to decades of neglect is so bad that it will take years to solve and has to be across ministries and with specialised agencies to drive the initiative. The worrying thing from the Minister’s statement is that the government does not seem keen to want to start in a serious manner. It is such a big problem warned by experts from years ago and will have to be a mega national effort. The earlier we start, the better for our future.

新加坡迈向近150万客工的旅程

YJJ1  余振忠

注意:这文章表达的是作者个人的观点

新冠病毒病例的暴增使客工备受关注。本文的目是要探讨我国是如何造成这样的一个局面:大量的低薪工人生活在与新加坡人完全不同的世界中,尽管他们实实在在地生存在我们群体当中。客工大规模涌入背后的经济考量到底是什么?

官委议员特斯拉副教授(NMP Associate Professor Walter Theseira)最近在新加坡大学政策研究所的论坛上指出,新加坡对此客工的依赖,从1970年代占新加坡总劳动力的约7%增加至今天的约38%。目前,这些客工中有72.4%持有工作准证(WP),而14%持有特别准证(SP)。从数字上看,客工人数从五十多年前的6万人增长到如今惊人的147万。其中大部分约123万人持有WP和SP(资料来源:新加坡人力部和美国移民政策研究所)。

持有 WP 和 SP 的工人是我国劳动力 中工资较低的一群。目前他们的人数如此之多,以至于他们几乎出现在我们社会的每个空间。2008年,已故的李光耀先生表示,他认为他自己政党的 “拥有650万人口计划”不可行。 该计划主要是通过移民来推动经济增长。李先生当时说:“以我们拥有的土地来说,应该有一个最理想的人口数量,以保持生活空间的平衡与舒适感。” 除了分享我们的社会空间,大量低薪客工的存在也压低了新加坡技术水平较低的工人的工资。这进一步造成了受益于我国经济增长的一群人与另一群实际工资停滞或甚至相较过去20年工资减少的人之间很大的分歧。

与其他发达国家相比,我们有这么多客工,他们的工资和生产力都偏低。到底是什么原因造成我国面临今天这样的处境?

我相信,是从第一代领导人手中接棒以来,对经济增长着魔似的固执所造成的。经济增长是好的,但我们还需要研究增长是如何产生的,增长是否是可持续而且是优质的,以及经济增长的益处如何分配到整个社会中。从独立到1990年代,我国快速的发展得到许多国家和经济学家的赞许并以新加坡为发展的模式。其中持相反观点的包括著名的经济学教授 保罗·克鲁格曼(Paul Krugman)。对于他来说,新加坡经济奇迹的是靠劳力而不是靠创造力取得。新加坡的经济增长是来自 其能成功地动员人口参与劳动,劳动人口占总人口的百分比从1966年的27%跃升至1990年的51%。克鲁格曼教授警告说,新加坡的劳动力参与率已经如此之高,不可能再进一步提高了。这种“靠汗水”的经济增长模式是有其局限性的。如果我国无法通过提高生产率,提高效率和创新,那未来的经济增长就只能通过不断增加外来劳动力来实现。

自1968年开始,执政党就一直绝对或近乎绝对的垄断国会,直到1990年代。国家领导棒子于1990年传给第二任总理吴作栋。在1991年的大选中,反对党前所未有地取得四个国会议席。对于一个不能容忍任何损失或面对有实力竞争对手挑战的政党而言,这是一件非常严重的大事件。吴先生在1984年承诺新加坡将在1999年达到瑞士1984年的生活水平(按人均国内生产总值计算)。成功与否,取决于提高国内生产总值(GDP)。

已故吴庆瑞博士是新加坡建国首二十年打造我国经济的建筑师。从1970年代一直到1984年退休,在这期间他一直警告以大量外国工人和外国直接投资来提高国内生产总值的危险性。前新加坡政府投资公司(GIC)首席经济师杨南强曾经在吴庆瑞博士的领导下工作。在2017年的“新加坡未来”(FOSG)对话会中,杨南强透露吴博士会责骂对那些胆敢向他建议通过增加移民来发展经济的人。吴博士认为,毫无节制地取得廉价劳动力将是对提升和创新等迫切需求形成阻碍。

第一代的领导人似乎非常清楚意识到廉价外来劳动力大量涌入和人口过多的危险。然而,下一代领导人却认为必须尽快取得经济增长。我相信他们是为了要保持对国会超多数控制的压力下,迫使通过持续经济增长来达到目的。

在1990年代,我国有大量的基础设施项目。为了配合这些项目,我国敞开了宽松的人力政策大门,引进客工。客工人数从1990年的311,264人增加到2000年的近800,000人(在短短10年中增长了255%)。在2000年代中期,为了把握另一波经济发展热潮,新加坡又一轮大规模的引进客工。2009年的全球金融危机这个趋势暂时停止,但在2010年,我国的国内生产总值惊人地增长了14.7%,客工继续涌入。2010年我国的客工人数达到130万。由于基础设施是经济活动的主要部分,建筑业的劳动力在这两个十年中增长非常迅速,从1996年的114,000人增加到2019年的300,000人。有鉴于《新加坡商业评论》最近预测:从2019年到2028年,建筑业的产值年均增长率为3.3%,我国未来的客工人数可能会更高。已故李光耀先生在2011年察觉到:“过去五年来,我们单靠进口劳动力实现了增长。现在,人们感到不舒服,外国人太多了。”他当时估计,我国可能需要五年的时间来减少对外国工人的需求。而近十年后,政府仍无法解决这一问题,而且客工人数还在继续增加。

这个简单的公式:“经济增长” 等于 “年度生产率增长” 加 “劳动力增长” 重现在 2013 年有关

这个简单的公式:“经济增长” 等于 “年度生产率增长” 加 “劳动力增长” 重现在 2013 年有关政府人口白皮书的辩论中。近年来新加坡的生产率一直都很不理想,在2011-2020十年期间几乎是持平的状态。在2019年,我国的生产率甚至下降了1.5%。由于受到冠状病毒疫情的影响,和即将到来的经济衰退,2020年可能会更糟。最近我们意识到建筑业的生产率偏低,并为此做进行了一些改进。尽管如此,与发达经济体如:澳洲,日本,台湾和香港相比,我们仍然远远落在后头。例如,澳洲和日本的建筑业的生产率分别是新加坡的3.9倍和2.8倍。在其他着重依赖低薪客工的行业,例如餐饮业和零售业,我们的生产率大大落后于香港这个与我们相似的城市国家经济体。

仅看GDP数字是具误导性的。GDP可以分为三个部分:工资,利润和税收。新加坡现在是世界上人均GDP最高的国家之一。但在过去的几十年中,新加坡GDP的工资部份一直处于在略略高于40%的水平,远低于经济合作与发展组织(OECD)国家50%左右的水平。甚至有些国家GDP的工资部分更高于此。

 GDP的利润部份最终是属于公司股东的。新加坡政府拥有的公司在整体经济中所占的比例,失衡地高过其他发达国家。我们鼓励外国投资,利润最终将回流到外地。在冠状病毒爆发之前,滨海湾金沙酒店是世界上最赚钱的赌场。它每年的息税前利润(EBITA)约15亿美元。它完全由在美国上市的拉斯维加斯金沙集团拥有。

长久以来直到2011年,在部长天文数字般的薪金成为2011大选课题之前,GDP一直是用来衡量公务员表现的标准。GDP增长是计算政治职位薪金花红的其中一个重要的指标。随着全球金融危机结束后的迅速反弹,2010年部长的薪金花红高达8个月。他们的基本薪金在当时已经是特别高的了。当生产率偏低时,增加劳动力可以辅助GDP的增长。我们还应该研究GDP增长的质量,以及收入增长如何分配给中低收入群体。

我认为,过去三十年来通过大规模引进外国劳动力来辅助GDP的做法,掩盖了许多酝酿中的长期结构性问题。目前我们已经到了一个阶段:我国经济一直依赖不断增长的低工资低生产力工人来继续“繁荣”的模式,已经上瘾。我认为正是这种对GDP着魔似的固执,阻碍了我们做出大胆的决定,例如制定全国最低工资标准。

这是不可持续的。在同一个FOSG 对话会中,杨南强分享了政策研究所一份2014年的报告:仅仅1.7%的劳动力年增长率就可以让新加坡2050年的人口达到1000万!2013年的政府人口白皮书中仅提出了到2030年我国人口可达到690万的情况。如果我们继续以这种速度发展,到2030年以后会出现怎么样的状况?这的确是挺吓人的,我们目前的外来劳动力正是以每年超过1%的速度增长。根据政策研究所的预测,在1000万人口中,将有330万客工,比目前增加235%。这还不包括我们定期增加的新公民和永久居民。到时我们将如何管理住屋和社会空间?我们将如何应对日益增长的财富和收入差距?我们的新加坡认同将会是什么状况?

我们已经看到,当我们把我们的小都市国家搞到拥挤不堪时,像2013年小印度骚乱那样的事件就可能会发生,更不用说如果我们让客工人数爆增235%!政府现在每年收取约30亿元的劳工税。这大幅度地给雇主增加了成本,并迫使他们将工人的工资保持在低水平。政府必须进行重大的结构性改革,让我们摆脱保罗·克鲁格曼在1990年所警告的那种“靠汗水”的经济增长模式。我们同时还必须思考已故李先生提出的“一个最理想的人口数量”,即我们的岛国可以容纳的人口数量。我们必须寻求一个更加可持续,高质量和以创新主导的经济增长模式。政府必须领导对长期严重依赖低薪工人的领域进行重大的结构性改革。

长期以来,我们的领导班子以最快(同时也是懒惰的)的方式寻求GDP增长,并且这种做法代代相传。尽管著名的领导人和经济学家警告过我们,这种方法将导致不可持续的人口增长,低收入者的工资被压制,巨大的差距引发相关的社会问题。我们现在都非常真实地感受到了负面影响。哪怕改革会造成多大的不适,现在是解决这一不断升级的问题的时候了。

This essay is translated from my earlier English post of “Singapore’s Journey to Nearly 1.5 million migrant workers”.

Long term issues to consider in GE2020

In today’s interview with Bloomberg News, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing that there’s “not much time” left for Singapore’s government to hold its next general election as the city-state has to dissolve parliament in January, months ahead of an April deadline.

Mr Chan also said, “Coming up against a hard deadline to hold elections, there’s actually ‘not much time’. We would like, when the opportunity arises, to have a strong mandate because the challenges that we are going to face in the coming years will indeed be the challenge of an entire generation.”

When the time to vote does come, Mr Chan thinks Singaporeans “are wise enough to look at the government performance not just on an episodic event”, but how it has done in the long term.”

 

My thoughts on this are:

1. The PAP has been given a super strong mandate since 1968, I believe the strongest for any country with democratic elections even in their worst performance. The current strong mandate that the PAP had been given certainly allows it to do whatever had been required to in the fight against Covid-19.

2. Yes, we should not judge based on just an episodic event, even though the government themselves had admitted that they could have done better in the explosive Covid-19 infection outbreak amongst migrant workers, if they had hindsight, etc.

The issue with migrant workers though, is actually a long term one that has become worse and worse each year. In the Population White Paper debate, Singaporeans had given their views very strongly yet the move towards the 6.9 mil ‘cap’ continued. The 2013 Little India riot cast a spotlight on migrant workers again. The key response was to curb drinking, especially among the migrant workers past 1030 pm. The Foreign Employees Dormitories Act (FEDA) was passed in 2015 but three manpower ministers later, some key parts of the bill appeared to be unimplemented, including the appointment of a Commissioner to oversee safety, maintenance, health and other issues across all large foreign workers dorms. We now know that half of the large dorm operators flout regulations yearly, thanks to questioning by MP Png Eng Huat. Singaporeans are paying a huge cost in now trying to control the situation at the dorms. How much we are paying is not yet clear but the government had said they will fund the additional costs that the already very profitable dorm operators have to incur for the required additional Covid-19 safety measures. Should Singaporeans fund dorm operators especially if they had cut costs and constantly flouted regulations previously and yet made huge profits each year?

3. In researching on this issue for an earlier blog post on how Singapore grew to nearly 1.5 mil migrant workers, I found that several of our prominent first generation leaders including the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the late Dr Goh Keng Swee had been against the idea of growing our migrant workforce beyond what we can manage, for many good reasons – our space cannot handle the large numbers that the PAP wanted, the negative impact on our culture and society, that over-reliance on cheap foreign workers will kill the push for innovation and entrepreneurship, etc. Dr Goh had warned that Singapore’s growth will one day come to a grinding halt if we become too reliant on these low wage workers. This is a long term issue that must be urgently addressed. The explosive number of Covid-19 cases has put a timely spotlight on our over-reliance on these migrant workers, living in what I believe are overpriced, poor and crowded conditions.

Former GIC Chief Economist Yeoh Lam Keong cited a IPS study in 2014 which projected that if our labour force was allowed to grow at just 1.7% annually, Singapore would hit 10 mil population by 2050, just 30 years from now. Can we handle this? Will more migrant workers issues explode in our face in the coming years after GE2020? Will we come to a grinding halt as warned by Dr Goh? Will the wealth and income inequality become too crazy to handle as we overpopulate? Can we even have a Singapore culture with local-born as minority?

Yes, there are indeed long term issues Singaporeans should be concerned about in the coming GE. It will certainly be the challenge of an entire generation as we seek to deal with a very tricky over dependence on low wage migrant workers problem and other issues caused by years of grow-at-all-cost..

Monopoly of Wisdom will Cripple Singapore

At a May 15 virtual forum on the topic, “What are the sacred cows that Covid-19 might force us to reconsider?”, a panel of academics and other prominent social commentators believe that the Covid-19 pandemic is challenging some of the Government’s “sacred cows”. These include the country’s addiction to cheap, transient labour and what the panelists described as the policymakers’ “fear of social responsibilities” and the idea that they hold “the monopoly of wisdom”.

Yes, I feel much needs to be done. Covid-19 has brought to the forefront issues which our society has been sweeping under the carpet for far too long.

1. We have a long entrenched and ever growing reliance on foreign workers. We were not like that years ago, definitely not under the first generation leaders who had repeatedly warned that we should never let ourselves become too dependent on low cost migrant workers. Those advice were swept aside in the chase for stellar annual GDP growth when the 2G leaders took over and grew worse over time. I have traced the 30 years journey of how we got to this mess today : https://yeejj.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/1-5-million-fw/. Just in case we think this is unavoidable, many developed economies such as Australia, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong have done far better especially in the construction industry compared to us by taking a different path.  The productivity of their largely local-based construction workers are way higher than their counterparts in Singapore.

2. Assoc Prof Theseira spoke about the myth of Singapore exceptionalism. Former NMP lMr Sadasivan said that the Government needs to come to terms with the fact that it “really does not have the monopoly of wisdom”.

For far too long, given the vast success of our first generation of leaders in transforming Singapore and shutting down criticism, Singapore has gone deeply down the path of believing that only the government has all the wisdom, that we only have enough for one A team, etc. We have been conditioned since young, from schools to just follow rules. The government celebrates creativity and innovation only when they fall in line with what they like to see, but clamps down or withhold support when they feel ideas are not consistent with their views. There are many examples. Just to name one, graphic novelist Sonny Liew had his grant of $8,000 from the NAC revoked on the eve of the official launch of his novel, The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for ‘sensitive content’.  He went on to become the first Singaporean to win at the prestigious Eisner Awards, considered to be the ‘Oscar Awards of comics. He won not one, but three awards at that event.

Only the government can be right and all other views are portrayed as dangerous for society or ‘irresponsible‘. As former veteran Permanent Secretary Ngiam Tong Dow had warned, many in government think they are little Lee Kuan Yews when they have not yet earned their spurs, preaching and dictating others like they know-it-all, and even mocking other world leaders.

Bold change so far happens mostly when the ruling party feels their hold on near absolute power is being threatened, such as after GE2011. Unfortunately, group think has and will impede Singapore from innovating and moving forward. I believe too often, the false sense of exceptionalism will make us complacent, lazy to think deeply, just follow rules and unwilling to embrace divergent views.

I have long believed that only when the competition becomes stronger will the government be forced to be more innovative and more responsive. I remained even more convinced after GE2011.

Covid-19 has exposed that our government does not always know it all and that we do not always have the ‘Gold’ standard. We should be humble to learn from others, whether from other countries or from Singaporeans with differing views. Given the uncertainty of the 21st century, we need to learn to embrace diversity to continue to be relevant.

 

(Note: a shorter version of this was earlier posted on my personal FB page)