Singapore, Aug 24 (PTI) Foreigners working in Singapore on work passes and competing with Singaporeans for jobs could become a 'divisive issue' and will be addressed, President Halimah Yacob said in Parliament on Monday, even as she appealed to the people to keep their hearts open to those who come from abroad.
Halimah was speaking at the opening of the first session of the 14th Parliament, after the swearing-in of Members of Parliament who were elected in general election on July 10.
'Another potentially divisive issue closely connected to our Singaporean identity is the sense of competition for jobs from work pass holders,' she said.
'This has become a major source of anxiety, especially among mid-career Singaporeans. We understand these concerns. They not only touch on matters of livelihood, but also on our sense of identity and belonging. They will be addressed,' the president said.
Job competition from foreigners emerged as a topic of debate during campaigning for the July 10 election, with several opposition party members bringing it up in their party-political broadcasts, Channel News Asia reported.
On August 14, Temasek slammed 'racist' and 'divisive' Facebook posts aimed at its Indian employees that questioned why the state-owned investment group was hiring foreigners instead of locals.
Leading financial services group DBS and Standard Chartered have also been criticised on social media.
'We will work with employers to further strengthen the capabilities of our workforce in every field, and ensure that firms treat Singaporeans fairly when they recruit or retrench workers,' Halimah said in her address.
'In all that we do, the interests of Singaporeans are always paramount,' the president assured.
Singapore's strong education system and training pathways have produced a workforce that can compete against the world's best, Halimah noted, adding that Singaporeans as masters of their own land must have confidence in the 'rights and privileges' of their citizenship.
She also said Singapore must not turn inwards and away from the world, stating that it must keep hearts open to those 'who come from beyond our shores'.
'We should continue to welcome and integrate those who can contribute to Singapore, and improve our lives and our children's future,' she said.
The president said multiracialism will always be a 'core element' of the Singaporean identity, stressing that everyone, regardless of race, language, or religion, must have an equal place in society.
'Here in Singapore, we embrace our plurality and diversity, even as we continue to develop a stronger Singaporean ethos, and strive together to become more than the sum of our individual parts,' she said.
Halimah acknowledged that multiracialism in Singapore is still a work in progress, with each generation bringing different life experiences and perspectives.
'In each generation, some will want to discuss sensitive issues afresh. Younger Singaporeans prefer talking about these issues more candidly and openly, which is a positive development.
'But the conversation needs to be conducted with restraint and mutual respect, because race, language and religion will always be visceral subjects. If each group pushes its own agenda to the extreme, we risk eroding the common space, and fracturing our social cohesion,' she said.
Singapore must be able to adjust its COVID-19 strategies as the situation continues to unfold, and be more resilient and nimble than others in responding to change, said the president.
The new term of the government is starting under the shadow of COVID-19 pandemic, she said, noting that while Singapore has brought new infections under control, coronavirus cases have risen again in other parts of the world.
'The situations globally and domestically have changed and there is no going back to the status quo ante,' Halimah said.
Singapore is facing its worst recession since independence. While the government is injecting about 100 billion Singapore dollars into economy, the situation will 'remain grave for some time', she said.
Singapore will make a “major push for sustainable growth”, while further strengthening its social safety nets, she said.
'We will reimagine how we plan our city, redesign urban mobility and grow using less resources in a low-carbon future,' she said.
Singapore will also push for green financing and sustainable infrastructure development across the region, to ride on Asia’s growth while protecting the environment, the president said.
'With creativity and resourcefulness, we can turn our aspirations for a greener Singapore into a competitive advantage,' she said. PTI GS MRJ MRJ