India unhappy with restrictions

Singapore’s move to placate its locals is seen as a stumbling block to Indian workers who are looking for jobs in the republic.
  Star, Malaysia
February 23, 2013

INSIGHT: BY SEAH CHIANG NEE

INDIA may soon put a little international dimension into the growing rift over immigration between Singaporeans and their government.

It has complained that recent laws in Singapore – aimed at placating Singaporeans – were imposing restrictions on Indian professionals who intend to work in the city.

This, it says, is a violation of a bilateral free trade pact, the service portion of which grants special  preferential treatment to Indian workers. The two countries signed the pact, called Comprehensive Econo­mic Partnership Agreement (CECA), in 2005.

India is unhappy with the changes in Singapore’s employment pass law which it says is tantamount to impeding special preferential treatment for Indians.

The pact has opened the doors to many of the 200,000 Indian nationals who take up jobs as middle-level managers, executives and technicians; positions that the locals are losing out on.

News that their government had granted the right to India to send its professionals en masse here under a free trade pact has shocked Singa­po­reans. People are already furious with the government over the rapid
intake of foreigners.

This new controversy, which could lead to a complaint by the Indians to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), is bound to add fuel to an already bad domestic situation.

Last weekend, thousands of emotional Singaporeans staged their biggest public protest in modern times to denounce a government plan to increase the population by 30%.

Many of the Indian nationals who surged into this city have taken up high-end professional jobs.

According to India’s Business Standard, the new laws may impact those already working in the various sectors. Discussions that started in 2010 to review CECA have gone no­where.

Indian officials said the new measures might make it harder to reach an agreement.

A request for Singapore to resolve the matter has not received a formal reply, the Standard said.

Singapore has explained that the tightening was imperative and in the interest of its people since the foreign workforce had grown very rapidly, said the publication.

It quoted a senior Singapore government official as saying: “The one-third is a long term target and we have not imposed quotas as such for any country. But in doing so, I do not think we have contravened our
commitments in the WTO or the CECA. Moreover, this is not specifically targeted to any one country.”

This new bilateral conflict is happening at a time when the Singapore Government is besieged by angry citizens.

Under a Population White Paper, this tiny overcrowded city of 5.3 million people may see the population jump to 6.9 million, with 55% of the population foreigners, in 17 years’ time.

Singaporeans are reacting strongly, as evident during the peaceful demonstration last Saturday at Speakers Corner. Between 3000 and 4000 demonstrators gathered in Singa­po­re’s largest public protest in years.

Although peaceful, emotions ran high. A number of people were seen teary-eyed as they sang the national anthem and recited the National Pledge.

The conflict is not just about numbers and whether to have six million or 6.9 million in 2030, although it ranks as an important issue.

Many citizens are worried about the extent of foreign control over local careers, since many have assu­med positions with power to hire and fire.

For the first time in a generation, politics in Singapore, traditionally a desert, is becoming uncertain with a growing question-mark about the future. The Government is facing intense criticism and is said to be more concerned with looking after foreigners than its own people.

In recent years, there has been increasing reports of Filipino and Indian managers, who upon taking charge, had started to employ – or promote – their own kind of people at the expense of Singaporeans.

It is potentially an explosive issue that is more threatening than social conflicts which occasionally break out between Singaporeans and foreigners.

Although the authorities have redu­­ced the number of professionals coming in, widespread foreign rec­ruit­ment is continuing.

Every week, online recruitment agencies are active in nearby countries, recruiting non-Singaporeans.

Last week, one agency advertised vacancies for 462 positions available to Filipinos, including managers, engineers, doctors and nurses, cooks, waitresses and receptionists.

This is just one of many.

Many Singaporeans are despondent about their career prospects or their children’s future.

The government is besieged and appears to be helpless.

It is amid this mood that some Singa­poreans are welcoming the plan­ned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (90 min­utes) as well as joint investment plans to develop large development projects
in each other’s territories.

It will have tremendous two-way benefits. Malaysia gets to connect its capital to Singapore’s rising wealth and development – and vice versa.

In addition, Singapore can find some relief in Malaysia for its manpower shortage.

According to Channel News Asia (CNA), some small and medium companies predict an increase in the number of workers hired from Mal­aysia. A business representative was quoted as saying that Singapore should be able to attract more Mal­aysian professionals without adding to the over-population problem.

The reason is that the fast train could reduce the high accommodation costs faced by Malaysians working in this city.

This means less dependency on China, India or the Philippines.

o Seah Chiang Nee is a veteran journalist and editor of the information website littlespeck.com
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