The latest war cry from our multi-million-dollar cabinet: Re-skill, upskill and multi-skill. It's the worn-out refrain started years ago to get our workers to "upgrade" themselves and prepare for the New Economy.
New Economy? We never even got out of the old one. We are still giving multinational companies (MNCs) heavenly tax breaks in the hope that they will continue to pull their investments here.
And when we tried to diversify into other industries, we ended up competing with other secrecy jurisdictions for money from tax cheats and money-launderers. We did this by re-writing our banking laws to protect the secrecy of questionable clients and constructing casinos.
But all this "New Economy" revamp has resulted in Singapore becoming the first country in Asia to plunge into recession. Since October last year the economy has been on a free fall, making Singapore the worst performing economy in the region and our worst performance since the 1960s.
Worse, our ministers who never pass up an opportunity to tell us how experienced and competent they are now admit that they don't quite know how to get the country out of the rut. All we can do is to wait because, according to PM Lee Hsien Loong, "recovery will come once the American economy picks up.”
The New Economy? Who is the Government trying to kid? We are still nothing but a service station, albeit a glamorous one, for the multinationals.
The real difference between now and before is that now we have to compete with cheaper economies in Asia. Hence, the desperate measures to bring in en masse foreign labour in order to keep costs down so that MNCs will stay.
So what is all this re-skilling and multi-skilling? It's just something that the Government has to talk about to make it look like it is doing something about the crisis.
The thing that the Government hasn't explained is: What do we do with all these skills when the US economy doesn't pick up?
But how can they be serious about the exercise when they continue to use cheap foreign labour to compete with Singaporeans? Upgrade your skills so that you can compete with a foreigner for a lower paying job. Does this sound like progress?
And why does the term "multi-skilling" sound suspiciously like euphemism for taking on another job (or two) to make ends meet?
There is a desperate need for a rethink of our economic model, one that, at least, pays our workers wages commensurate with the cost of living, and one that frees them from exploitation.
The "tripartism" between Government, management, and labour is a ruse. There is no symbiotic relationship between the three, just a predatory one where the ruling party teams up with business to put workers in constant want.
How else can you explain that after nearly half a century of this arrangement, workers find themselves with diminishing wages and with the cost of living outstripping what they take home?
And when the CPF pays a non-existent interest rate and when savings are withheld from retirees, the NTUC sees nothing, says nothing and does nothing. Actually this is not entirely accurate. It comes out as cheerleader for the Government's moves.
In this time of extreme hardship, our workers are driven to gloom and despondency due to years of PAP’s deliberate anti-labour policies and laws aimed at denying their basic rights such as forming unions of their choice.
The PAP leaders, including those masquerading as labour chiefs and what have you, should stop shackling the aspirations and expectations of our workers.
Without a genuine trade union, free from the fetters of the PAP, our workers will continue to languish and remain deprived of their just demands. May Day may be behind us this year but the Singapore Democrats will continue to champion for the interests and rights of our workers. We will continue our campaign for:
- Singaporeans First
- Minimum Wage
- Retrenchment entitlements
Enough with the endless and empty slogans like "re-skill, up-skill and multi-skill." They are feel-good cliches meant to distract workers' attention from the real economic issues. Let us instead focus on addressing the subjects of cheap foreign labour and the suppression of wages which are bringing much misery to all of our workers.
Chee Soon Juan
Singapore Democratic Party
(11 May 2009)