National Day Rally 2021 marked a significant shift in many aspects of Singapore. These changes will affect all of us one way or another. If you have missed the speech, or are unsure of how it applies to you, read on and find out more from our summary and analysis!
The three main clauses in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech comprises the Economy, Society, and Race & Religion. With the above discussed, let’s dive into each clause and uncover how it could affect you potentially as an expatriate living in Singapore and the many benefits the government is keen to provide as a Singapore Citizen / Singapore PR.
With Covid transitioning into an endemic in Singapore, the government is pivoting towards more forward-looking strategies – such as generating new growth, new jobs and even prosperity for the future to ensure sustainability. Job competition could rise for both the locals and foreign scene even though the aggregate labour demand is gradually healing while job vacancies are rising, hitting a high of 68,400 job vacancies in March.
According to the MOM data, our resident employment continued to grow in the second quarter, outpaced by the continued decline in non-resident employment due to COVID-19-related border restrictions. In the past year – due to the pandemic, over 15,000 temporary jobs have sprung up to cushion unemployment rates. The past year has allowed Singapore to transform into a macroeconomic restructuring exercise. However, as the landscape transitions into an endemic situation, we can expect lesser reliance on temporary jobs. For example, temperature screeners are no longer needed in public places as of August. With demand winding down on these jobs, the first possibility is for many locals to return to their old jobs – especially for the aviation sector.
As mentioned by CNA – the biggest obstacle towards hiring would hence be frictional unemployment – the result of job-seekers looking out for employment opportunities until they find a suitable role which could potentially stiffen the competition in the labour market.
However, to propel the economy forward, Singapore has 3 main objectives:
1. Preserve Singapore’s status as a business hub.
With the global economy picking up, MTI is confident that Singapore will also do well, raising our benchmark of forecasted growth from 6% to 7%. One of the government’s top priorities is to open Singapore’s borders and quickly reconnect with the world. With many MNCs’ regional bases situated in Singapore, employees (local / foreigners) will need to frequently travel in and out of Singapore due to operational purposes. Closing the borders for too long will cause Singapore to lose its advantage, and the economy will suffer permanent consequences. With open borders, expatriates with family abroad can enjoy safe short term travel.
2. Remain attractive to our investors.
The EDB has constantly been persuading larger companies to invest in Singapore, even during the times of Covid. In recent times, Zoom has opened its new research centre in Singapore – the first in Southeast Asia. With that, foreign investors can now consider Singapore as their ideal destination to enhance the job opportunities for both the local and foreign communities in Singapore.
3. Make its mark in the new economy.
Enterprise Singapore plans to support more local entrepreneurs —Carro, Secretlab, Carousell— that have emerged globally.
If you are running a startup, you might stand a chance for the upcoming grants! We are following the government support measures closely and providing timely updates. Follow our LinkedIn page for the latest information!
Now down to the crucial point in our main challenges. While Covid-19 has deepened fault lines in our society, causing difficulties to arise due to our differences, it is no doubt that inclusiveness benefits all Singaporeans to fulfil our aspirations for generations to come. Hence the government has implemented some schemes to ease the current tension arising.
1. Lower Wage Workers (LWWs)
Covid has shown many vulnerable positions of LWWs, and how they constantly face financial insecurity and instability. This includes the surge in importance in sectors such as delivery, cleaning, and even security. As such, the government is committed to supporting them through several methods.
Workfare Income Supplement (Workfare) Scheme
Designed to provide longer-term support for LWWs, Workfare acts as a negative income tax – topping up workers’ salaries in cash and CPF contributions. Workfare will also start younger from age 30 rather than 35. The scheme includes providing hospital subsidies through our CHAS scheme and MediFund. Younger families who require support in their children’s education to do well in school and beyond will benefit from the scheme. Whereas, in areas such as retirement, CPF top-ups and Silver Support were supplemented.
Progressive Wage Model (PWM)
The government has extended PWM to cover cleaners, security guards, landscaping workers and lift maintenance workers. PWM will gradually increase to give a runway for workers to up-skill themselves with an earning of at least $1,500 in 2 years while increasing the minimum wage to $1900 in the next two years.
Future Strategies and Implications for Foreign Workers
With time, the government aims to extend the help of the PWM scheme to cover more sectors starting from the service sectors and subsequently all sectors.
Under the new tightening measure, companies will need to pay all their local employees a Qualifying Salary if they wish to hire any foreign employees. The current LQS is at ($1,400), based on the number of S-Pass / E-Pass they require and will be progressively adjusted.
Consequently, companies could potentially avoid hiring foreign workers, leading to significantly fewer job opportunities. If you are not yet a permanent resident, perhaps you should consider applying now to secure your future here in Singapore.
On top of this, the government will introduce a PW Mark – Progressive Wage Mark to benchmark and highlight to consumers the companies paying their employees decent wages and the public sector will only acquire companies with such labels.
2. Stricter Criteria for Work Pass Holders
Recently, the rising narrative of foreigners competing against Singaporeans for jobs has resulted in significant contention and discontentment in some locals with the increasing pressure. In the address of PM Lee, he highlighted the importance of how our work pass holders are needed to complement our workforce and grow the economy.
Nevertheless, the government wants to assure Singaporeans that their concerns are recognised. In addressing the issue, the government will gradually enhance stricter criteria for EP and SP. With that said, the finance and IT sectors indeed have a large share of work pass holders as Singapore is a business hub. However, in such growing sectors where the skills are short in supply, it is crucial to ensure a balanced inflow of foreign talents to groom our younger local talents through capabilities transfer.
Therefore, to ensure fair treatment and reduce workplace discrimination, the government will incorporate the Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) guidelines into law. It will serve as a last resort. For companies that refuse to comply with TAFEP counsels, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) can impose administrative penalties and even restrict the company from hiring foreign workers.
3. Social Impact on our Foreigners
As PM Lee shared, some of the work pass holders stay on to eventually become Permanent Resident (PR) and naturalised citizens in Singapore. Most others do not stay long enough to integrate fully into our society. The primary reason lies within the cultural differences we may have despite being of the same race.
Indeed, social frictions arise from being similar yet different as some of our foreign friends bring their social practices and class distinctions from their own countries. However, both sides require the need to make an effort to ease the social tension of accepting and understanding the culture. Non-Singaporeans who wish to integrate and live in Singapore must understand how Singapore is to fit in better.
As our foreign friends have helped strengthen our economy, some have endured personal hardships such as being separated from families. Singaporeans must not remain hostile to foreigners or form a xenophobic impression. Instead, we are determined to be outward and forward-looking in our mindsets and values. In addition, the government hopes that these values would help transform the population of our immigrants into a cosmopolitan and vibrant country.
Race & Religion
The unfortunate rise in racial conflict incidents due to anxiety caused by Covid and the emerging variant has sparked disgruntlement in certain people towards particular races. However, we must address the real issues – manage the work pass numbers and concentrations, and improve border health safeguards. But we should not let our frustrations spill over to affect our racial harmony.
As such, the government intends to introduce The Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act. The new legislation will consolidate the government’s powers to deal with racial issues.
Our Final Thoughts
As you can see, the National Day Rally 2021 is a turning point. As Singapore stabilises and opens up to the world again, it will surely emerge out of the pandemic stronger. Now is the perfect opportunity to apply for your PR before the impending policies discussed above tightens. If you are thinking about maintaining the status quo in such turbulent times, we urge you to think twice as the pros of applying to be a PR now outweigh the cons. Check out our article about why you should PR during Covid times.
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