Shortly after WP's May Day Press Release, Seng Han Thong rebutted:
Union leader challenges Workers' Party to hire only S'poreans
An anecdote about a Singaporean coffeeshop woman worried that "a sweet, young beer girl from China" was undercutting her wages has triggered a feisty exchange of barbs between the Workers' Party (WP) and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Seng Han Thong.
The tale of the beer girl had been related recently by Mr Lim Boon Heng, the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office. He had said that such beer ladies from China helped to draw more business to the coffeeshop, in turn helping the Singaporean keep her job.
In its May Day message, the Opposition party said that this anecdote was an admission that the People's Action Party (PAP) had created an economic model in which Singaporeans had to be dependent on foreign workers to retain their jobs.
Yesterday, Mr Seng, who is also the PAP MP for Yio Chu Kang, challenged the WP to set an example on the issue of foreign workers.
"According to their statement, I propose that they start with their Hougang Town Council by ensuring that all their workers and employees are Singaporeans only. That's the best way to start," said Mr Seng, speaking to reporters after NTUC's May Day Rally.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also defended Mr Lim's comments in his Mandarin speech at the rally. Pointing out in jest that he did not entirely agree that having more pretty beer ladies — and hence encouraging more Singaporeans to drink — was a good thing, he said that Mr Lim's point that foreign workers were important to the economy was a serious one.
The Prime Minister noted that while "some people disagreed" with Mr Lim's answer, it highlighted several "important facts", including how foreign workers are "hardworking and willing to work long hours" and "strengthen Singapore's overall competitiveness".
Mr Lee added: "By hiring them, coffeeshops can open late, or even 24 hours round the clock. More importantly, with the help of foreign workers, our airport, seaport, factories, offices, hotels, restaurants and retail outlets can offer better service and business hours."
Reply from the WP's...Press Release on 2nd May:
LABOUR DAY RELEASE – RESPONSE TO MR SENG HAN THONG
We refer to Mr Seng Han Thong’s reported response to WP’s Labour Day press release.
It seems that Mr Seng, a labour MP, has conveniently forgotten to address WP’s questions about his ex-boss Minister Lim Boon Heng's insensitive comments.
Instead, he side-steps them by querying whether all employees of Hougang Town Council (HGTC) are Singaporeans.
For the record, the staff of HGTC are all Singaporeans. However WP recognizes the contribution of foreign workers and is not against their employment.
For instance, HGTC does not object to its contractors deploying foreign workers in the estate.
The WP Labour day message raised three issues pertaining to workers in Singapore in view of the changing economic circumstances, the government policy on foreign manpower and the government's attitude towards the employment of foreigners.
WP said, first, the government's attitude should be to put Singaporeans first; secondly, we should resist any erosion of Singaporeans' societal standing; and thirdly, it is the government’s responsibility to show compassion for the plight of the workers facing the pressure of high inflation.
Therefore, the issue here is not of foreign workers’ employment per se but rather how the Singapore Government and the Labour Union will ensure that the dignity and societal position of Singaporeans workers are not compromised in view of globalization and labour mobility.
Yaw Shin Leong
The Workers' Party