With the spectre of an economic crisis looming, political parties made their case for how they would keep Singaporeans in jobs and tackle unemployment on day two of the hustings.
The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has emphasised jobs as one of the key issues in the July 10 general election and it resounded through the day.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed to how the Economic Development Board was able to attract $13 billion in new investments in the first quarter of this year, which will generate several thousand jobs over the next few years.
In a video message yesterday, he said this was possible because investors know Singapore’s Government has strong popular support, and can get backing for “policies that will grow the economy, attract talent and investment, and eventually create jobs for Singaporeans”.
“In a crisis, it is even more critical for us to reinforce these fundamentals, in order to attract more investments and jobs to Singapore,” PM Lee added.
Jobs was also a central topic in an election debate between four parties that was broadcast live by Mediacorp last night.
Workers’ Party (WP) candidate Jamus Lim highlighted the party’s proposals for a national minimum take-home wage of $1,300 a month for full-time work, as well as a redundancy insurance scheme.
The scheme would see workers pay $4 a month, matched by employers, into a security fund, and retrenched workers would receive a payout equivalent to 40 per cent of their last drawn salary for up to six months, capped at $1,200 a month.
Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Francis Yuen said Singaporeans have to “get priority in jobs”, by freeing up jobs held by foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).
“We believe that we need foreign PMETs to complement, but we need to believe that there is opportunity for us to slow it down,” Mr Yuen said.
The former air force colonel also highlighted the need for small and medium-sized enterprises to thrive and prosper, to keep jobs available to Singaporeans.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan called on the PAP to “stop this foolishness” of bringing in foreign workers, especially PMETs.
It is not sustainable, he said, to bring in foreign PMETs “for the purposes of lowering wages”.
In response, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan noted that 60,000 foreigners have lost their jobs in the first five months of this year. He also highlighted various support schemes and initiatives that have been rolled out to save the jobs of Singaporeans amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Balakrishnan said: “The central focus of our (PAP’s) campaign is jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Dr Chee responded: “I think that’s more an election jingle than a well-thought-out plan.”
Citing the Jobs Support Scheme, Dr Balakrishnan said: “During the circuit breaker, in effect the Government was paying three quarters of the median wage of Singaporeans.”
The minister also pointed to measures like the income relief scheme for the self-employed, and the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package that will create some 100,000 opportunities in the form of jobs, traineeships and paid skills training places.
Parties on the campaign trail yesterday relied on walkabouts in constituencies and other online events to reach out to voters.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, for instance, held an e-rally with members of his East Coast GRC team. Conducted like a panel discussion, the five candidates spoke on national as well as municipal issues, and addressed questions to them on Facebook.
The WP launched the first episode of its “Hammer Show”. The pre-recorded show saw candidates like former Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Gerald Giam making speeches to viewers.
There was also a talk show segment, where party chief Pritam Singh and chairman Sylvia Lim posed questions to three of the party’s candidates.
In the process, the WP leaders reinforced points that they have previously made – that the vote is secret, that checks and balances are needed in Parliament, and that the NCMP scheme is meant to prevent opposition parties from sinking roots in constituencies and building up a power base.
Elsewhere, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam took aim at the PSP, saying it seemed to be “half-hearted” about contesting in his Nee Soon group representation constituency.
He added that the PSP was offering to trade Nee Soon for some other constituency a week ago – a statement PSP candidate Bradley Bowyer called “far-fetched”. The party had never negotiated ceding Nee Soon to the Reform Party, Mr Bowyer added.
The hustings continue today, with the first of two party political broadcasts to be aired across 19 TV and radio channels from 8pm this evening.