Tin Pei Ling: Crying foul over turkey

Ms. Tin Pei Ling has published a note recently on her Facebook account. In it, she aired her views about the Foreign vs Singaporean worker debacle. It was really a fairly mundane article about her quizzing local businessmen why they are not hiring more locals. What jazzed up the writing, was the choice of the following words “cold turkey”. In a way, Ms. Tin suggested that employers have to go “cold turkey” after years of foreigner employment. You can imagine how alternative media loved it. Each one lambasted her for suggesting that businesses amputate their foreign limbs completely.

Personally, I am pro-immigration. I want to (and have been to) work in other countries – in my experience across Europe and China, I was treated with hospitality, been given a good pay package and at times, I too have suffered a bout of “you took my job” criticisms. If I had it my way, I’d decree that the entire planet open up their hearts and their borders to all. The world should be like one gigantic EU, employment to be accessible throughout God’s green earth. I’ll write about this some other day, but for now, I recieved an email yesterday afternoon. This person wrote and appealed to me to post his comments on Ms. Tin’s article.

Here it is:

“A recent FB article put up by Ms Tin Pei Ling caught the attention of many. Most chose to focus on the phrase “cold turkey”, which is quite a sensationalized one to use.  However, many people missed the real point – that the GROWTH of foreign labour needs to be constrained. Nowhere in the article stated or even hinted at having zilch foreigners in Singapore. In fact, it stated “Their current plight shows that this is a complex issue, that foreign manpower is not all bad, and is in fact an important complement to our own labour force.”

Differentiating between the issues surrounding competition faced among blue and white collar workers is important, but the common thread between both is that Singaporeans do feel threatened by the presence of foreigners. For the blue collared locals, they fear they do not even get a job (doesn’t matter whether they demanded pay higher than what the employers were prepared to give); for the white collared locals, they worry that they face a glass ceiling because the top people in management are foreigners.

Some may argue that competition is not all bad. Ok. But Singapore is, as pointed out in the note, limited in physical capacity. It cannot take indefinite growth.

“Cold turkey” was a nerve-jerking phrase to use. But to be fair, Ms Tin’s note is sympathetic to businesses and had called for more help and time to be given to help these SMEs. It is important to read the note and not misrepresent it. Letters such as the one at http://www.tremeritus.com/2012/06/29/please-dont-think-ms-tin-pei-ling-is-so-smart/ and comments arguing that she (or the PAP) is promoting absolutely no foreigner is clearly missing the point and of a different agenda.”

What do you think?

Feel free to comment.

Post-Writing Notes:
I emphasize once again that I am pro-immigration. I believe in competition, equal opportunity and cross-border exchanges. I believe that businesses need to keep their costs low, yet reward where reward is due. That is why I believe that a strong, active labour movement is needed to balance our very capitalist society. I do not believe that we should reduce foreign employment on a drastic scale, turkey or otherwise. If we do, then corporate chickens will be crossing the roadand we will all know why.

Below is Ms. Tin’s note reproduced in full:

I spoke with a group of local SME businessmen recently who shared their woes about the current tight labour force. They told me that the recent measures to tighten control over foreign labour has affected, and threatens to suffocate, their businesses and growth. Running SMEs is already tough and stressful. Now they are having to get jobs done with less manpower, because they have to meet their obligations to customers who do not care whether they have enough workers or not.

I asked why they do not hire more Singaporeans to do the jobs they offer. They told me they try to do so, but the reality is that few Singaporeans want to take up those jobs, even if they raise the pay. Moreover, Singapore is at 2.1% unemployment (i.e., virtually full employment) and they simply cannot find enough locals to fill positions.

I asked if they could raise productivity, e.g., install new machines and processes, so that they can make do with fewer workers. The Minister for Finance in this year’s Budget had announced several measures to help businesses with such improvements. But the businessmen told me that these measures take time, whereas they have immediate labour needs.

Actually, the businessmen understand why the government has to reduce the inflow of foreigners. They also know of comments, through online and mainstream media, arguing how foreigners were stealing local jobs and how taking a bus ride felt like travelling in a foreign country. They are Singaporeans too, and understand such feelings expressed by Singaporeans. But they felt that this was only one side of the story, pushed by a vocal group. Their current plight shows that this is a complex issue, that foreign manpower is not all bad, and is in fact an important complement to our own labour force.

I fully sympathise with the challenges that the businesses face. However, I believe the current moves to constrain foreign labour force growth is the right long term measure, especially so given the limited physical capacity we have. In a way, Singapore has to go into “cold-turkey” after years of allowing huge inflows of foreigners. Politics should be about having the courage to make the best decision at any given point in time, and act on it. But we should also recognise the painful tradeoffs that we are making, and give more help, and time, for SMEs and local businessmen to adjust to the new circumstances.




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