Saturday, January 8, 2011

Works there, why not here?

Jan 04, 2011

Letter from Rick Lim Say Kiong

I AM worried. Despite the assortment of pro-family measures dished out by the Government over the years to address Singapore's low fertility rate, it continues to drop further ("S'pore grapples with low birth rate, integration", Dec 31).

While our total population is steadily increasing, we are aware that this is due mostly to the number of transient workers and immigrants who become Permanent Residents (PR). Singaporeans have groused about this massive influx of foreigners. The nub of their complaints is not only with the number, but also the quality, of the immigrants.

We can all agree that we need transient workers for jobs in sectors such as construction, food and beverage, and cleaning. Since these industries have been reluctant to increase wages or improve productivity, foreign labour seems to be the only option at the moment to meet manpower demands. What we need to be concerned about, however, are immigrants not working in these labour-intensive industries.

As a human resource practitioner, I have noticed that the quality of workers applying for and obtaining permanent residence has decreased over the years. In the past, when the Government was espousing the need for foreign talent to work here, start businesses and create jobs for Singaporeans, potential PR applicants had degrees, diplomas or higher-level certificates and/or a wealth of experience.

[Since you are HR practitioner, tell us why the market is not paying more wages to Singaporeans, or why productivity is stagnating. You should be in the know. If the new FW are lower quality, why is your HR practice to hire lower quality FW?]

In the last six years, however, I have noticed that even workers with three O-Level credits are granted PR status once they have worked here for a year or two. Skilled as they may be, do they contribute to our economy by creating jobs or do they take jobs that can be done by locals? If only real foreign talents are given PR to work and stay here, and they do create jobs for the locals, then my guess is that most Singaporeans would not mind their growing numbers.

We need to worry about why we cannot arrest the decline in our fertility rate when pro-fertility measures implemented in other developed countries seem to work. In Australia, the goal is to reach a fertility rate of 2.1. Their current rate is 2.0 - impressive if you compare that to our dismal figure of 1.22 last year.

Australia has flexible working arrangements for employees, dating agencies for singles and a government-run baby bonus scheme for parents - which we also have in Singapore - yet theirs seem to work and ours do not. Why?

[So why don't you tell us why it works in Australia? We don't know why ours don't work. If we knew, don't you think we would have fixed it? Since you know Australia's work, did you dig a little deeper and get an analysis of why it worked there?]

One contributor to the Today online forum puts it aptly with this analogy: When pandas in a forest are not reproducing themselves sufficiently, do you add other bears to the forest (where resources are scarce) and then expect the panda numbers to increase?

[Depends. The bears were introduced to eat berries and salmon. Pandas only eat bamboo. Not very versatile. Impossible to reskill. And if resources (bamboo) are scarce, don't worry. Bears don't eat bamboo.]

When we find that our spaces get more cramped, wages do not increase, modes of public transport are packed, jobs are threatened, housing options are becoming limited and their cost increased, et cetera, it does not take much to realise that these factors will impact our country's fertility rate.

[Bullshit. One of the biggest problems in poor countries are high births among poor people living in cramp conditions, with low stagnating wages, or no jobs, and no housing options. All the points you raise are our government's insidious efforts to make Singaporeans feel poor so that they will produce more babies.

And that was a facetious way of saying, those are excuses, not reasons. Sometimes they are fodder for blackmail. You see it in forum pages: If the govt wants me to have more kids, they should help me get a flat!]

In addition, our long working hours and demanding workloads are the main killers of fertility. Having better maternity benefits, flexible work arrangements and baby bonus schemes are measures that treat only the symptoms of our underlying problems - and until we truly fix these, our fertility rate is likely to continue its decline.

[So to reduce long working hours, and demanding workloads, we need to hire more people, and since there are no more people of the required quality, we need to hire more... FOREIGNERS! Which means that Singapore will get more crowded and housing costs increase and people worry about their jobs, so they DON'T HAVE BABIES!

You haven't really thought through this problem, have you?]

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