Unpopular opinion on TODAY’s commentary about foreign workers in Singapore got netizens triggered

By April 13, 2021Current

TL;DR – Some were very, very triggered.

A couple of days ago, Today published an opinion piece titled: “Commentary: An unpopular opinion but the truth is foreign workers help, not hurt, Singaporean livelihoods”.

Written by a visiting research fellow at the Adam Smith Center Singapore Donovan Choy, the commentary discusses how, in contrary to popular belief that immigrant inflows to Singapore will increase unemployment, these foreign workers are in fact essential ingredients to growing Singapore’s economy.

Evidence contradicts such popular belief

The author noted that according to the long-trend data from the Singapore Department of Statistics and Ministry of Manpower, evidence has shown that even though Singapore’s foreign workforce population has tripled in the span of three decades, the resident unemployment rates have remained stable.

“In 1992, non-Singaporean-residents made up only 12 per cent of the total population. This rose to 19 per cent in 2000, 26 per cent in 2010, and amidst increasing resistance to foreign labour, has plateaued close to 30 per cent ever since,” he added.

He also pointed out that in the same time period, unemployment rates of Singaporean citizens and permanent residents have remained relatively stagnant, never breaking 5.2 per cent in three decades. 

To Choy, this is a healthy indication because growing economies must remain open to new technologies and market competition that will induce some frictional unemployment as workers move in between jobs in a flexible labour market. 

Choy also noted in his commentary that a 0 per cent unemployment rate is neither practical nor desirable, as this likely suggests that an economy is not innovating and increasing productivity.

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He believes that the fact that employment is relatively stable while Singapore’s population is growing over time is a sign that far from threatening the livelihoods of Singaporeans, and foreign labour supplements our economy by adding to Singapore’s competitive edge and productivity.

As such, Choy opined that foreign workers are essential to growing Singapore’s pie of wealth and not necessary “stealing” Singaporeans’ job because of these three reasons:

  1. a larger population creates higher market demand on goods and services
  2. a larger workforce also enables a greater division of labour, which in turn leads to higher productivity – the more pairs of hands we have, the more we can split tasks up so individuals can focus on being great at one thing
  3. a larger population also gives us a bigger stock of knowledge, a critical fuel to the innovative dynamism of an economy

Reactions to the article

Unsurprisingly, the article which was shared on Today’s Facebook page has drawn some criticisms from netizens, mostly from those who disagree with the author, because… unpopular opinions are a little hard to swallow.

Check out the comments in the post below:


Protecting the Singaporean core

Last year, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has proposed a Fair Retrenchment Framework (FRF) to help protect workers’ rights and ensure fair treatment for workers who are affected by retrenchments.

The FRF, which sets out three key principles: protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, preserving jobs, and providing job support, urges companies to ensure openness, transparency, and consultation with unions and workers, and to observe the framework in line with responsible retrenchment practices.

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While such framework serves as a guide for the firms when layoffs become inevitable and in preserving a Singaporean core in the workforce, it also boils down to whether employees themselves are proactive in staying relevant in their fields.

As one netizen put it, “we must look inwards on how to make more dough for ourselves, nobody owes us a living”.

What are your thoughts on this?


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Gabrielle Teo

Author Gabrielle Teo

I read lots, and I also spend an indecent amount of time trying to get my mostly unpopular opinions published. Oh, I argue a lot with fellow Singaporeans who complain incessantly about Singapore too.

More posts by Gabrielle Teo

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