Way back in December 2009, many Singaporeans who were retrenched during the global financial crisis were still unable to find a job commensurate with their experience and qualifications. NTUC promised to tackle the "under-employment" issue which was common among older Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs). Halimah Yacob, Deputy Secretary-General, NTUC, said then, “He may be very qualified, very skilled, but the jobs that he wants to do and is willing to do is not available. He ends up doing a job that does not make full capacity, productive use of his capabilities. It also involves the case where jobs are not paying them the kind of salary or earning that they feel is commensurate with their qualifications and skills.” They are obviously still working on the problem.
Once upon a time, only highly qualified expatriates or blue collar workers with specialist trades are granted permits to work in Singapore. Operating under the radar, the liberalised foreign intake policy has flooded the Singapore labor market with foreign PMETs, some with shady paper credentials, leading to intense competition with locals for jobs which otherwise would have been available to them. The threat was no longer the lowly road sweeper or the traditional shipyard worker. The gamut runs from IT engineers, service technicians, supermarket supervisors, front desk personnel, bank officers to physiotherapists in the healthcare sector. The excuse used to be the need to fuel the economy, now the slant is on the declining birthrate. Guess what - the foreigners ain't producing any more babies than the locals.
Whether it is the TFR or the silver tsunami, the planners seem to ignore the tinderbox that is the volatile mix of an economically insecure population and the ad hoc infusion of outsiders, especially those flaunting obscene wealth of doubtful origins. One writer has stated that the "anxiety over having too many foreigners needs to be genuinely respected, and addressed sensitively and holistically." The failure to do so will erode the trust between the people and government. Unlike a city hotel that may rent its rooms by the hour, a country worth defending has an innate DNA crying out for enhancing the well-being of its occupiers (called citizens) and nurturing a liveable and inclusive, not polarised, society. It would be sad day when the outflow matches, or even exceed, the influx of human traffic. How many of your neighbors' kids are opting to study overseas, with or without the justification that they could not secure a place in the local universities? Those who cannot afford this costly opt out alternative will add to the simmering disgruntled. The threshold of pain is sorely tested over the surge in foreign workers, soaring housing and transport costs and stagnant salaries for low-wage earners. In the grand scheme of things, Hougang was just a speeding fine.