Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat has responded to a Facebook post by Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh, in a continuing debate over employment data that began in Parliament this week.

He said on Wednesday night that the data on employment growth in 23 key industries, which Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad gave on Monday in Parliament, was comprehensive and clear. It detailed employment growth for Singaporeans and PRs, and showed that employment for foreigners has dipped.

“I am puzzled why Mr Singh failed to acknowledge these statistics in his Facebook post,” he added in his own post.

Mr Singh, in his post on Tuesday, said the Government often does not classify Singaporeans as a standalone category. “PRs are also included, collectively categorised with Singaporeans as ‘locals’,” he pointed out. This classification makes it difficult to consider the problems Singaporeans face and the policy options to boost their career prospects, he added.

Hence, his party’s MPs will file questions in Parliament to get data that is now unavailable or “not provided in a manner that specifically identifies how Singaporeans in particular are doing”, he said.

Mr Chee, however, said that what matters most are the outcomes for workers. Further, most international labour market statistics are not even broken down by nationality.

But results on this front have been encouraging, with Singapore remaining globally competitive in attracting investments, and wages of Singaporean workers going up, among other things, he said.

Mr Chee’s remarks came after an exchange in Parliament on Monday between Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Mr Singh.

The WP chief had asked for a breakdown of the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the industry transformation maps (ITMs), which are blueprints that map out how 23 key industries in Singapore should transform themselves for the future. Most of the ITMs were launched in 2018.

Mr Singh had also asked if the Government would in future provide more employment data with a breakdown of jobs that went to Singaporeans and PRs.

Replying, Mr Chan said the Government does not have “anything to hide”. But he questioned Mr Singh’s intentions.

Stressing the Government has done right by Singaporeans, the minister said local unemployment has not increased as a result of its economic policies. Wages are also going up, and at a faster rate than those in many countries, he added.

“I’m always very cautious about this constant divide – the Singaporean versus PR. The insinuation seems to be that somehow Singaporeans are not benefiting… It’s not the data, it is the point of the question,” he said.

Mr Singh, in his Facebook post on Tuesday, noted that grouping PRs and Singaporeans as “locals” makes it difficult, among other things, to track and consider policy options to boost the employment and career prospects of Singaporeans – “something every civic-minded citizen and most of us political moderates with a stake in Singapore should be concerned about”, he wrote.

Also, without data specific to Singaporeans “there is much less scope for members of the public to rely on education and facts to counter fake news and falsehoods”.

Falsehoods also fester far more when facts are available but not made public, he noted.

“In post-Pofma Singapore, the political leadership of the day cannot expect to have it both ways,” Mr Singh said, referencing the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma).

Replying, Mr Chee stressed that good jobs continue to be created and that PRs have contributed economically and socially to Singapore.

“More importantly, many PRs are family members of our fellow Singapore citizens,” he said, noting that Mr Singh would be aware of this as the WP has joined People’s Action Party MPs in advocating that foreign spouses and children of Singaporeans be given priority in Singapore citizenship.

“We must firmly reject all attempts to drive a wedge between different groups within our society and stand resolute against efforts to stir fear and hatred for political gain,” he said.

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