Thursday, January 25, 2007

Singapore workers jobs must be protected from foreigners

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have never heard of a single country in the world, where the government allows the entry of indiscriminate and unlimited number of foreign workers when it already knows that these foreigners will take jobs from the locals which they, the locals, are competent and willing to do. I can certainly understand and appreciate that foreign labor is admitted in countries where it lacks the skills and therefore the need to import foreign labor. Software engineers from India work in many other countries where these skills are lacking locally. Doctors, dentists, machinists, you name it, all sorts of workers skilled in these and other occupations are willingly invited and welcomed in countries where the country lacks such skills. Perfectly understandable.

In Singapore, it is different. Listen to this carefully. You will be suprised, is to put it mildly. Singapore, believe it or not, permits foreign workers into Singapore to work, even though local Singaporeans have the skills and are willing to take these jobs. Instead of giving these jobs to Singaporeans to whom Singapore belongs, and to whose citizens the government is primarily responsible before others, they instead give it to some foreigner who is allowed into the country to work and do that same job which the Singaporean is ready and willing to do. End result, foreigner is employed and the Singaporean is unemployed in his own country, having to rely on state assistance which is insufficient to maintain himself and his family.Unable to survive, and to feed their families, many Singapore citizens, either suffer in silence or worse, commit suicide. Singapore citizens take their lives by jumping off high rise buildings. I understand this happens on average of one a day.

Anyway you look at it, surely a citizen of a country should have more rights, than any foreigner. In the UK an Englishman comes first, in Germany a German, in France a Frenchman, and so on. One cannot work in France just because a French employer states he needs workers and displace Frenchmen who are able and willing to do the job. The French government will not permit it. Understandably so.

In every country in the world, there is a process that has to be undergone before the admission of foreign labor. In the US, there is a process called labor certification. A US employer has to prove to the Department of Labor that they have tried to recruit local workers for the job without success, that they will pay the minimum wages for the work in the particular locale, that they are not displacing any US worker already in the job and if unionized, the union consents to the admission of the foreign worker and there is no present strike or lockout in the employer's premises. Various safeguards are put in place to protect local wages and working conditions. We can all understand the need for foreign workers for manufacturing and international trade and commerce. The international movement of labor around the world is on the whole, a good thing and eventually it benefits all. I am not at all against the importation of skills and labor, but surely only when it is not available locally.

But what the Singapore government fails to understand or deliberately refuses to, is that productivity and competitiveness is raised not only becasue of cheaper labor, it can be raised also through better training and increased mechanization. As is the case in the USA and the more developed world. And they refuse to carry out their responsibility of maintaing the living standards of their own people.

But believe it or not, this is not the case in Singapore. In Singapore, local employers are able to bring in workers from abroad regardless of whether there are locals able and willing to do it. Not only that, believe it or not, foreigners can just come to Singapore, show that they intend to set up a company, employ themselves in it and do business. Educated foreigners coming in as visitors, offered a job at a salary above $1500.00 can apply for an employment pass and start working immedaitely. As easy as that. Since the salary level required to satisfy the grant of an employment pass is very low, this effectively disadvantages Singapore citizens who previously could have expected a much higher salary, were it not for the entry of the foreigner. Now because of the low salary rate needed to qualify for an employment pass, either the local Singaporean accepts a lower salary and take that job, or he is unemployed.

There are the lower paid menial jobs such as house maids, construction workers, manual workers, cleaners and so on. These require the local employer to recruit them from foreign third world countries through recruiters overseas after which they are admitted to do lower skilled lower paying jobs even though there are many local Singapore citizens without sufficient education or skills ready and willing to take these jobs. But for Singapore employers, there is no incentive to employ them, as a foreigner worker will cost much less. Here again, many local Singapore citizens find themselves either unable to find any job because it has already gone to some foreign worker who is prepared to do it for less or worse, many who already had jobs have had their jobs terminated and replaced by foreign workers.

The Singapore government argument in this indiscriminate entry of foreign workers is that they have to keep costs down and remain competitive. But surely this argument is not only totally illogical, it is a policy that totally neglects the welfare of it's own people, which any government should be responsible for. Surely as citizens of Singapore, the people should be cared for before anyone else. That is the responsibility of any government. But from what is going on in Singapore, if does not appear that being a Singapore citizen in Singapore gives him any advantages over others. In fact the foreigner is cared for better in Singapore since it is he who gets the job.

The claim by the Singapore government that cheap labor makes them more competitive is untrue. The US, Germany, and all European countries have minimum wage levels much higher than third world countries. These countries too have their nationals doing manual work, diswashing and all kinds of lower paid work. They do not bring in thousands of low cost workers from Africa to fill these jobs. Still, they pay decent minimum wages befitting the standard of life in Europe and America. How do they do it? They improve productivity. A US construction worker is paid a good wage, lives in a good house, has a car and lives a comfortable life. This is because the US worker's productivity is high, he is mechanized, well educated and well trained. The US does not lose it's competitive edge because these workers are well paid.

The action of the Singapore government to admit indiscriminate unlimited numbers of foreigners into Singapore shows a criminal crass indifference to the welfare of Singaporeans and seriously damages the future well being of the country. For the short term, it denies it's own citizens jobs. In the long run, it fails to improve the quality and skills of local Singaporeans since there is no incentive to educate and train Singaporeans, since productivity and competitiveness is achieved through through the simple expedient of cheap foreign labor.

Surely in a situation like this, one may ask what are the labor unions doing. But in Singapore, as you may have expected, they do nothing. The philosophy of the Singapore government, and their compliant unions, is that the unions, just as all other public institutions there, must work in unison with and not against the government. Therefore the unions no longer represent their workers as one would have thought. Instead they comply with what the government tells them. In fact, it would have made no difference, one way or the other, in Singapore, if unions did not exist. For more than 20 years, Singapore unions have abdicated their duty of representing their workers. They are, like somany other positions in Singapore, a government rubber stamp.

And you may well ask after reading this far, as to what is the Singapore worker doing about this attack against his person and his job by his own government and the foreign workers. Well you may have expected this surprising answer. Nothing. He is doing nothing about the injustice being done to him by his own government in his own country and by his own unions. He just suffers in silence. Many, as I have said kill themselves.

Dr. Chee Soon Juan has written about the need for civil disobedience. If Dr. Chee is reading this, may I recommend that this issue of permitting foreign workers to enter the Singapore workforce indiscriminately and take their own jobs in their own country is the one issue that is crying out for civil disobedience. I think Dr. Chee should organize sufficient numbers of people to come forward in a protest to demand jobs and stop giving them to foreigners at their expense. This is an honorable cause which requires immediate action. It is also an issue which, I believe, will stir those affected as it affects their very livelihood. With the news of the government of Singapore increasing the President's salary to even more dizzy heights, this time to $2.6 million, surely, these Singapore citizen workers, unable to afford even the basics, need to be at least looked at.

If such a non violent peaceful protest on a matter which clearly touches their livelihood and existence can be organized, it can serve as a catalyst for other protests on the various other burning issues that face Singaporeans at the hands of this uncaring government.

If Dr. Chee's supporters can spread the word around among the poor and needy that they should do this, this protest, it may serve as a harbinger to new things, with the government being made to reckon with the needs of the people, unlike at present, where they do things at their pleasure without any need for accountability to their people to whom they should be responsible.

I hope Dr. Chee reads this and takes action on this. Also readers in agreement with my sentiment, may be able to ganvanize and garner sufficient, or even a few willing men and women to continue with the the idea of peaceful protests, which Dr. Chee and his supporters already started not too long ago at the CPF building.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914

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