Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Parliamentary Speech by WP Mr. Chen Show Mao on 5.2.13 - White Paper on Population

5th February 2013

A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore: Reclaiming Back Singapore – Workers Party MP for Aljunied GRC, Chen Show Mao
Watch video here [Link]
(Mr Chen spoke in Mandarin first & in English thereafter) 

(Below is the Translation from Mr Chen's speech in Mandarin)

Madam Speaker, the White Paper states that “To be a strong and cohesive society, we must have a strong Singaporean core.”

It also states that"our population and workforce must support a dynamic economy that can steadily create good jobs and opportunities."

Our experience over the past few years suggests that to achieve these objectives would require much planning.

Our population will eventually reach the limit of our island’s space.
It would be more responsible to plan now for economic growth that would rely on fewer labour inputs, while maintaining a Singapore core, than to leave the underlying economic and social issues till later.

The Workers’ Party proposes that we target to increase our resident workforce growth by up to 1% per year from now until 2030. This includes Singapore citizens and permanent residents. The foreign workforce should be held constant and increase when we do not achieve our target for growth in the resident labour force.

We should focus on growing our Singapore core of workers over time through efforts to increase our TFR (total fertility rate) and LFPR (labour force participation rate)

The government has recently announced additional incentives for having babies. However, there are structural problems that require longer term solutions, which also affect Singaporeans’ decisions to have babies. These include the lack of work-life balance, escalating housing prices, the stressful education system and even a crowded environment and others. Other governments have been more committed and have shown significant success in reversing declining fertility.

How will we grow our resident workforce if the number of new entrants is not increasing due to declining fertility trends? We need to look into ways to increase our labour force participation rate, so that more residents of working age are encouraged to enter the workforce. Our current labour force participation rate was 66.6% in 2012.

There are 1,063,400 economically inactive residents, 306,100 or 29% due to family responsibilities, 163,800 or 15% are retired. The numbers for the latter will increase due to ageing workforce. Both represent scope for LFPR increase — getting stay-at-home parents to reenter/enter workforce and reemploying elderly workers.

Historically, in the last 10 years from 2003 to 2012, LFPR increased by 3.4% points, or 0.34% points per year. We should focus on fostering LFPR increase in the future.

Under the WP proposal, assuming the Government meets its current productivity growth target, we could enjoy 2.5 to 3.5% GDP growth per year up to 2020, and 1.5 to 2.5% GDP growth per year from 2021 to 2030, which is in line with the growth rates of most mature economies.

In this scenario, we are looking at a projected population of 5.3 to 5.4 million in 2020, and 5.6 to 5.8 million in 2030. Most importantly, we will not need to take in so many foreign workers and immigrants to supplement the local workforce, which will help us maintain a Singapore core.

The Workers’ Party does not endorse proceeding headlong into the government’s suggested path.
Underlying its plan is that population injections of that magnitude are required for a dynamic economy. Instead, we believe we should focus on growth through a Singapore core. To quote a population expert, immigration is “essentially a one-way policy tool with permanent or long-term social, economic and environmental consequences, and it cannot be reversed without human rights violations” . The land use data prepared by the Urban Redevelopment Authority shows how little room we have to move if the White Paper is endorsed. Under the plan, we will use up significantly more land, with only 4% of land reserve left for future generations. By then, we would be even worse positioned to meet the challenges of a sustainable population policy, we will have less room for error in planning, with a population of 6.9 million on the island.
At this critical time, we urge calmness and caution.

(Below is Mr Chen's speech in English)

Unlocking Existing Value In Our Current Population

Madam, The Workers’ Party is not being facetious when we reversed the wording of the white paper title to A Dynamic Population for a Sustainable Singapore to describe our alternative approach.

For the White Paper, population growth has to be sustained to feed into a dynamic economy like so many pieces of coal into the furnace to drive the Orient Express. For the Workers’ Party, the people is the heart and soul of the nation, and it the duty of the government to provide the conditions for a dynamic people to thrive. A sustainable economy is a must, but it must be one that serves a dynamic Singaporean workforce, not the other way round.

Our model hinges on resident workforce growth over the long term through the encouragement of local labour force participation, the principal aim of which is to get more Singaporeans to be economically active and independent.  And also structural reforms to set the Total Fertility Rate on the path of recovery to replacement rate.

For the Workers’ Party, A dynamic Singaporean population is the very purpose and meaning of our existence as a nation and economy, an existence that should be sustainable.
We believe that any labour force growth should take place via a targeted 1% per annum growth in the resident labour force. Over the short term, our resident labour force grows only when young citizens or permanent residents enter the labour force. Over the longer term we should target to increase the existing Labour Force Participation Rate — currently at 66.7% — instead of immediately turning towards importing new workers to supplement any shortfall in the growth in the resident labour force.

We can target three groups of our existing population that are currently economically inactive and remove the barriers that may be keeping them from entering or even re-entering the labour force. These are: resident foreign spouses, stay-at-home parents and also the elderly.

At present, resident foreign spouses who are on Long-Term Visit Passes or Dependant’s Passes are not eligible to take up employment. If they want to do so, they must apply for work passes and be subject to the qualification criteria and are tied in to a specific job. Those on the new LTVP+ scheme do not need to apply for work passes but instead need to apply for a Letter of Consent. Relaxing some of these requirements may make it more likely for LTVP and LTVP+ holders to enter the labour force. And indeed an average of 19.5% of Work Pass applications by these foreign spouses on LTVP are unsuccessful. It could be even more difficult for these foreign spouses to meet MOM’s requirements if they are hoping to work part-time or on a flexible basis because they have other responsibilities at home.

As for stay-at-home parents, encouraging them to re-enter the workforce can be in the form of introducing better, more affordable and convenient childcare and support, perhaps in conjunction with incentives to employers, and as some have mentioned, also in terms of making flexible working arrangements (for example job-sharing arrangements, increased availability of part-time jobs or working from home) more available and even making them the norm for parents of young children. We see several OECD economies with both higher TFR and higher Female Labour Force Participation Rates than Singapore. Clearly more can be done, and the public sector should lead the way. While current government programmes such as work-life and flexible-work initiatives aim at providing incentives to get economically inactive Singaporeans into the workforce, more can be done in this area and structural changes may be needed in our family-friendly support structures in order to allow a greater proportion to beyond the 35 per cent of employers who were offering at least one form of work-life arrangement in 2010.

Independent Active Ageing

The last group that we should look at are the elderly.
The government has been trying to get more elderly people to remain in the workforce for a longer period and indeed the employment rate for older workers aged 55-64 has increased in recent years. But as we pointed out before in parliament, these numbers only tell us these workers are employed, but not whether there is under-employment.
Studies have shown that older Singaporeans are also healthier.

We believe that our elderly should be able to work for as long as they want to and are able to.
And there is scope for older workers to help grow the resident workforce. The male Labour Force Participation Rate for those aged 60-64 was 74.6%, and 52.6% for those aged 65-69% in 2012. For women, the figures are 41.7% and 26.3%.

Yet, age discrimination in hiring and in the workplace is a common concern of many Singaporeans. The Singapore Workforce reports mention ‘Employers’ discrimination (e.g. prefer younger workers)’ as major reasons why discouraged workers have given up their search for a job.

We should actively investigate if additional administrative or legislative measures could be taken to remove this impediment to our older workers entering or staying in the labour force.
In addition, government incentives for businesses to redesign jobs, processes and also workplaces specifically for older workers should play a larger role in the government’s measures to improve productivity. More targeted measures can be done to help older workers remain as productive as their younger counterparts. When older workers are able to be more productive, employers would be more inclined to retain or hire them.

We have all been shown the charts for growing old-age dependency ratio, which is the ratio of persons aged 20-64 years to persons aged 65 years and over. When we look at it, we should also bear in mind that with improvements in health and life expectancy, many of our elders are healthy and able to work longer, and indeed many want to. Not to mention that many have other economic resources of their own.  They are not all economically dependent.
Madam, An ageing population is a triumph of development.

We should stop seeing elderly Singaporeans as just a drain on our economy and as a hindrance to our goal to keep Singapore dynamic. Older Singaporeans have much to offer us, and not all of it can be measured in economic terms.

In fact, our elderly Singaporeans are essential to maintaining a Singapore core.  Older Singaporeans are custodians of culture and, as some have suggested, can be employed in schools to teach subjects such as social studies and national education, or encouraged to volunteer to do so. This is also a way of encouraging cross-generational sharing and learning, particularly in a society where family trends are shifting and there may be less opportunities for inter-generational sharing within the family.

Stopping the Waves of Emigration

The White Paper warns us:
“A shrinking and ageing population would also mean a smaller, less energetic workforce, and a less vibrant and innovative economy. [...] Young people would leave for more exciting and growing global cities.”

We need to ask ourselves the reasons why Singaporeans are leaving? Are they leaving because they feel Singapore does not offer them the right economic opportunities? That they would need to support their ageing parents or other elderly Singaporeans if they stayed?  Or are many of them leaving because they feel Singapore is becoming too crowded, costly and competitive, that they would like to live somewhere and bring their children up in a place with more space and greater well-being? How does increasing the population to up to 6.9 million by 2030 allay these concerns and make it less likely for Singaporeans to decide they have to leave the country of their birth in search of a better life for themselves and their children?

Madam, the assumptions and conclusions laid out in the White Paper need to be looked into again.  I oppose the motion.

Source: Workers Party political website

No comments:

Post a Comment