We want deeds, not words

Gandhi Ambalam

The unmanageable surge in job losses in Singapore has brought into sharp focus the contrast between words and deeds of the PAP government. 

In the second quarter of this year, close to 19,000 jobs have disappeared despite PAP’s much hyped Jobs Credit Scheme (JCS) to stem the tide of unemployment and retrenchments. 

It was with much fanfare that the JCS was introduced in Budget 2009 as a means to “encourage businesses to preserve jobs in the downturn.” Under the scheme, a $4.5 billion cash grant was promised to employers “to provide a significant incentive for businesses to retain existing workers, and where their business warrants, to employ new ones.”

But from the latest figures on job losses released by the Ministry of Manpower, words and empty slogans seem to be the feature of the PAP government.

So far more than 100,000 employers have benefited from the scheme since its implementation in March but the rise in retrenchments and unemployment is staggering. 

The hardest hit is the sector that depended on the US and European markets, mainly exporting consumer goods on contract manufacturing, employing cheap labour. Singapore’s manufacturing sector, overwhelmingly dominated by foreign multi-national corporations (MNCs) is in the doldrums.

The weak demand for their low-value added goods has resulted in layoffs, while others are moving out of Singapore to a cheaper location. The latest manifestation of this trend is Seagate Technology which will move its hard disk drive manufacturing operations from Singapore to other countries by end-2010, laying off 2,000 employees in the process.

How is the Jobs Credit Scheme helping? Are we assured that the money doled out by the Government is making its way to workers instead of their employers?

This continued gloom that is surrounding the economy of Singapore for the past ten months without any solution in sight raises serious questions about the Government’s strategy.

Mr Lim Swee Say, minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, warns repeatedly “of further layoffs” towards the end of the year.  And for his part, his cabinet colleague, Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong said: “The most important message is to remind all of us that the worst is not yet over.”

Yes, we know that. Those are words that are easily uttered especially when you are sitting in the comfort of your office and drawing your multi-million dollar “salaries” regardless of the number of thousands of people losing their jobs.

The Jobs Credit scheme obviously cannot help those who are retrenched. For these people how do they survive without income?

This is where the SDP’s proposal for retrenchment benefits can help. The Government should provide temporary income at a reduced rate for the retrenched while they seek alternative employment. Such a provision will also enable these affected individuals to continue spending which will in turn help the economy. 

As mentioned the money dished out to the employers under the Jobs Credit Scheme may be hoarded by the bosses and not circulated back into the economy. This, however, is unlikely to be the case with retrenched workers as they will have to spend the money they receive on essentials. 

The PAP Government needs to do more than talk.

Gandhi Ambalam is the chairman of the Singapore Democrats.

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