I waited after the General Election to write this article. As a Financial Blogger, I do not wish that my writing to have political effect on the GE. As much as I am interested in the topic of Finance, I followed closely on the Politics of Singapore. After all, Singapore is a place that I had grown up, and I love my country! This is also the home for my kids, and it is of great concern to me for their future.
Yesterday, 10 July is Singapore 18th General Election and more than 2.5 millions Singaporeans headed to the poll. Without surprise, the PAP has the super majority, winning 83 out of the 93 Parliamentary seats (i.e. ~90 percent of the seats). Nonetheless, the actual percentage of valid votes won is a pale comparison to the seats won, falling from 69 percent in the 2015 election to 61 percent this year. This is one of the most dismal performances by the ruling party with the exception of the 2011 election.
JOBS JOBS JOBS…
There are many possible reasons. For instance, the timing of the election in the midst of the pandemic, the worst crisis where unemployment is rising, the high cost of living, the call for alternative voice in the government, the disgust of elitist attitude of “government is right, and people is wrong – I do not need to hear from you”, the rising quality of the opposition, the newer generation with newer mindset etc.
Yet, in my opinion, the primarily reason is still the bread and butter issue of “Jobs Jobs Jobs”. Many Singaporeans have lost their jobs or have to endure huge pay cut during this crisis. Even before the crisis, there is already a great discontent of the loose foreign policy allowing influx of foreigners, believing by Singaporeans to have taken the jobs rightfully meant for them.
WE NEED FOREIGN WORKFORCE…
Foreign workfore is of critical importance for our economy. I do NOT think the disgruntles from the ground is on foreign workers in the construction and shipyard sectors; or assistants in the F and B or retail sectors; or nurses in the healthcare sector, or foreign domestic helpers at home, or jobs such as cooks, hairdressers, technicians in automobile repairs, workers for renovations, bus drivers, or foreign coaches etc.
Also, I think that most locals can also agree with me that in most foreign owned MNC operating here, it is common to have several foreigners of their own country-HQ holding high positions here. Or in industries that are very niche, we also require reasonable number of foreigners to impart the knowledge to the local employees here.
WHAT WE DO NOT NEED…
The displeasure of most local citizens I reckon, is more in the context of influx of foreign Professional, Managers, Executive, Technicians (PMETs) taking jobs away from the locals with un-level playing field. One distinct example is when Singaporeans with the same qualifications and expertise are not considered because they are not of the same country of origin as the hiring managers or the senior management. To make matters worst, the tough education in Singapore with our citizens studying so hard in so called top class local universities, having to find themselves being displaced by foreign PMETs who graduated from lesser known universities overseas, but are better in “selling themselves” in their resumes (sometimes with distorted truth) and their “everything also can do attitude” during the interviews gave them an edge to be hired. On the contrary, Singaporeans are taught in our education to be studious and truthful, and tend not to over-sell themselves and hence will lose out comparatively in the competitive business world.
Please note that this post has absolutely no intent to disseminate division in the country. I have neither hate nor have biases towards any foreigners working here. In fact, I acknowledge the importance of foreign workforce in Singapore. Personally, I also have many foreign friends in Singapore who are genuinely hardworking and nice people whom I like very much. Furthermore, fair level playing ground with foreign talents in Singapore can also improve the competitiveness of Singapore and make us a cosmopolitan country well-suited to serve the global economies.
Therefore, I want to disclaim that what I am sharing here, is the feedback I get from the ground, based on real life examples from frustrated Singaporeans, and it is not my intent to send any divisive message with any hidden political agenda. I do not belong to any political parties.
REAL LIFE EXAMPLES
Mr. L worked in a foreign MNC in Singapore with 500-1000 employees locally
Mr. L, a Singaporean in his 40s told me Singaporean employees in his company is considered the “lowest life form”.
The company is North Asia MNC established in SG for many years already. The current CEO is Western expat. The previous CEO is a South Asian expat. Therefore, almost all HODs or Director positions are either filled with overseas Westerners (due to current CEO), North Asians (where the company is HQ) or South Asians (due to previous CEO), or foreigners of the same roots who turned Permanent Residents (PR).
For the same reason, most managerial positions are also exclusive from local Singaporeans. When it comes to promotion or hiring, there is a natural inclination to favour employees of the same country of origin as the managers or the directors. Many times, this unfair treatment is at the expense of capability, efficiency or even qualification.
I was told, what is even more disgusting is to see the Singaporean HR manager not helping the Singaporeans because he/she is afraid of the foreign senior management, and by squeezing the local Singaporeans, he/she can score more credit in front of the bosses.
Henceforth I was told that in his company,
– Top Class: Westerners, north and south Asians due to company HQ, current and previous CEOs country of origins.
– Middle Class: South East Asians foreigners because of the tendency to be more obedient i.e. “yes man/woman” without telling the truth even when things goes wrong.
– Lowest Class: Local bred Singaporeans will be the lowest life form with little backing
And the most unbearable thing is not only that promotion opportunities is biased against Singaporeans, the locals also have the lowest salaries in Mr. L’s company. One thing we need to blame ourselves is sometimes, there is also very little cohesiveness when it is needed among local bred Singaporeans, when in front of the superiors, because everyone is afraid to lose their job. In many other countries I have been to and had many personal experiences, there is more loyalty and sense of belonging to their country. If their countrymen are being bullied, they tend to be protective towards their own countrymen more than us Singaporeans?
Ok… is this meritocracy? (or is this Singapore who teaches, care for ownself only?)
You may question why don’t Mr. L just leave this company and find a new job. The sad truth is that, this is a common trend not just in his company, but in general, in the industry he is working for in the past two decades. To make matters worse, it is so difficult to find a job in his industry now.
While the above is only one example, I think it can pretty well represent the voices of many Singaporeans suffering in this type of frustrations.
I can also vouch having personal experiences working in foreign owned MNCs in Singapore, that it is not uncommon that the foreign bosses will like to hire or promote foreigners. Sometimes it is not because the foreign bosses are biased. It is also due to the more subdued nature of Singaporeans, being not so good in presenting themselves as “THE GOOD EMPLOYEE”, or being less of a “YES MAN”, and prefer to speak the truth, which sometimes not worded properly, can caused hidden annoyance of their foreign superiors.
In my career, I had done my part many times in educating this nature of many Singaporeans subordinates to the top bosses to make them understand. Furthermore, I will also always try my best to hire local bred employees on the basis of their character and experiences.
There are also many companies I know of, that upon receipt of the Job Support Scheme payouts recently, the foreign management team will then fire or impose more hefty paycut to local Singaporeans down to $4,500 so as to still receive the minimum JSS, while the payout is used to protect their own countrymen in the company.
Recently, I also met up with a friend in my industry who got retrenched, and his company kept his cheaper subordinate who is a foreigner. My friend is only 51, and still full of vigour and passion for his job, with many years of good experiences in the industry. He also worked close to one decade each for two companies (total 20 years), displaying his loyalty and prove not to be a job-hopper. That said, the reality is cruel. His vast experiences in the dire Marine and Offshore industry is not leading him to any good job prospects. His future is uncertain with parents to take care, and with two kids still schooling.
In fact, many in my industry with great expertise and experiences, ever-since the oil crisis had either lost their job permanently or gave up on job seeking after too many failures in interviews. Many became permanent Grab or Taxi drivers, and some choose to leave the country marrying their foreign wives. This group of people are normally in their 40s or 50s. Those in the late 20s and 30s, many in my knowledge, had chosen to leave the sector, take a huge paycut to join the government sector.
Most Singaporeans working in the public sectors, statutory boards, or companies that is largely locally owned do not feel this pain because perhaps they have not even know or heard about this type of issues. On the contrary, this sentiment is greatly felt in the private sectors, and in particular, foreign owned companies in private sector.
Frankly, personally I have not faced this type of frustrations myself. This is due primarily of my outspoken character, and I prefer to beat those who “play politics” in their own games. Still, I have full empathy to my fellow Singaporeans who are suffering. It is not easy if your character is less of an extrovert, and it requires a lot of courage and experience and wisdom to properly coat wordings to speak the truth at the right time, at the right place in front of the right person.
Good overseas exposures, with the basis of good relationship building do help when dealing with foreign bosses. It also takes patience to learn, to endure and to excel. Therefore, I urge all Singaporeans who are in this difficult situation to also learn to be more sensitive to their superiors’ personalities and learn to build a good-relationships with them (No matter how much you dislike them now). I had many similar experiences myself, where colleagues I hated become my very good friends over time!
Please note that I am just sharing what I heard from the ground. Foreign workforce is NOT to blame for the policy of the government. Hence, please do not treat our foreign colleagues as our enemy. It is only natural that foreigners in Singapore wanted to come to a foreign land to earn as much money as possible, before they head back to their country. Putting yourself in their shoes, you will do likewise.
Maybe (I say maybe only), it is also not our government’s fault if you are not sharing your concerns openly to your MPs (for they are not you, and they do not know your situation). OR, if you still continue to vote the government who implement this loose policy, then you deserve the government you vote for.
So, if you are the one those who suffer in the loosed foreigner policy, and still vote for the ruling government, because you are scared or feel that the opposition is not capable enough, then please STOP complaining about the unfairness in your company. Yes, at least stop your whining for the next five years, because you already get the government what you voted for!
Lastly, as the sandwiched generation myself where I have parents and children to take care of, I really hope that Singaporeans like myself will continue to be able to support their family, and for as much as I have to take care of my family myself, with my own backup plans, I do hope our government can implement fair policies to level the playing ground in our working environment at least to help others who have to depend more wholly on the government.