On Monday (7 Feb), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has stepped forward to refute the claims that Blogger and government critic Leong Sze Hian had made in his Facebook post on 26 December 2021.
Alarming Job Statistics Listed in Leong’s Post
Leong starts his post regarding the job trends in Singapore with a bold and provocative line:
The beginning of the end for Singaporean Jobs?
In his post, he lists that the breakdown in the workforce has gone from 64.1% Singaporean, 30.2% Foreigners, and 5.7% Permanent Residents (PRs) in 1997 to 53.7% Singaporeans, 35.8% Foreigners, and 10.5% Permanent Residents in 2020.
With those statistics in mind, he questions why there is an increasing proportion of the workforce—43.8% to be exact, which is almost half—that aren’t Singaporeans, and why 58% of Professional, Managerial, Executive, and Technical (PMETs) jobs are being held by foreigners.
Furthermore, he lists that if the Job Growth Incentive (JCI) Scheme had truly been effective, why has the last quarter of 2021 seen an increase of 29,600 unemployed Singaporeans instead of an decrease of 11,980 like the government had predicted.
Wah, are things are really that bad in Singapore?
MOM Debunks Leong’s Claims
Although Leong didn’t receive much attention for the alarms he raised concerning the employment rates of Singaporeans, nor were his PowerPoint slide skills in summary anything worth noting, the MOM still thought that it was necessary to refute the critic.
First and foremost, the government fact-checked whether there has been a growing trend of unemployment throughout the quarters, which has the tendency to fluctuate especially during school breaks when more students temporarily enter the job market.
Hence, it is more reliable to analyse the seasonally adjusted employment rates instead.
According to the statistics, the seasonally adjusted number of unemployed citizens has decreased by 10,4000. Afterwards, it stabilised between June to September 2021, which coincides with the schooling months.
The reason why non-seasonally adjusted numbers are less accurate is because it also coincides with the period where students look for part-time jobs (around June), and fresh graduates are also seeking out job opportunities.
It should be noted that unemployment statistics only take in account of people who are unemployed and actively seeking a job, but it doesn’t account for discouraged and long-term unemployed workers, nor does it separate part-time and full-time workers which leads to the fluctuations.
Ratio of Occupancy of PMETs Jobs
Compared to the exaggerated number of 58% of PMETs being non-Singaporean, MOM claims that foreigners only account for 22% of all PMET jobs in 2020.
Ergo, they are not the majority holding PMETs positions, not by a long shot.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of local PMETs vacancies have increased by 300,000, while the number of Employment and S Pass holders—essentially VISAs that allow foreigners entry on work basis—has only increased by 11,000.
What this means is that there are more locals occupying PMET jobs, even to the extent where Singaporean citizens outnumber foreigners by a ratio of 3:1.
MOM reiterates that just because foreigners have occupied the jobs doesn’t mean that jobs have been stolen from the locals per se.
Rather, it means that the workforce is diverse and competitive, which allows for greater innovation and more comprehensive ideas and understanding of various markets. It also symbolises that Singapore is capable of attracting more investments to grow the economy, and in turn, create better and more jobs for Singaporeans.
Leong Fights Back Pronto
In true critic style, Leong immediately made a debate about the given statistics the very next day (8 Feb), in response to MOM.
I would like to say it is as exciting as a table tennis match, but I’m no stats major and the details have me in a slight tizzy.
Leong writes that MOM has only discussed the “employed PMETs”, but it doesn’t take into consideration the unemployed breakdown of Singaporeans and PRs in that category.
For instance, around 48,200 of Singapore PMETs make up 4.3% of the unemployment.
Leong also argues that these statistics need to be taken into account with the 310, 280 new citizens and 635,533 individuals that there granted permanent residency from 2005 to 2020. Consequently, a large portion will join the workforce when they become of suitable age.
Therefore, Leong states that 19.7% (where did he get this statistic), can be removed from the 61.7% in Singaporeans which reduces the figure to 42% instead.
Moreover, he points out that PMETs are not just limited to S-Pass Holders, which require a salary of $2,400 to $4,000 in 2020.
There are still general work permits to consider which have lower financial thresholds to contain, whose poly-median starting pay is $2,400, which is comparable to Singaporeans, and competing with Singaporean PMETs.
Additionally, Leong feels that he’s not wrong for quoting non-seasonally adjusted numbers, especially during the times of pandemic because the actual number of unemployed in these challenging times are arguably more important.
To really add insult to injury (and maybe a little smugness), Leong points out that MOM has only refuted 2 out of the 11 statistics he quoted.
Does this unequivocally mean that the other nine claims hold a modicum of truth?
Like 120,000 full-time employed residents having a monthly income that is less than $500, 38,600 citizens having less than a thousand, and with 138,000 people hovering between $1,000 to $1,499?
Arguably, the poverty line in a first world country should be heightened, especially considering the rising costs of living.
As for the rest of his arguments, you can continue reading it in his Facebook post linked below.
There is much to dissect from the arguments proposed by both sides, and there are always loopholes in the statistics provided by government sources that might try to display the general employment situation in a more positive light.
That is to say nothing of how these statistics are fundamentally flawed in how they are calculated too.
In any case, it’s better to allow a knowledgeable and impartial economist analyse the statistics at hand, whilst considering the general increase of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents versus the influx of foreigners, plus the general restrictions placed on the employment of foreign permit holders.
It’s complicated lah.
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Featured Images: Shutterstock (SergeyBitos), Ministry of Manpower & Facebook (Leong Sze Hian)