During weekly house visits with my Workers’ Party colleagues last week, a resident related to us a story which gave me a sinking feeling about the future of our workers in Singapore.
He told us that he conducts courses for many unemployed workers undergoing skills upgrading or conversion. He said he had a trainee who was a highly-skilled technician who could not find a job, likely because of his age and the state of the economy at that time. This technician was persuaded to undergo a course to be trained as a security guard. In the end, he completed the course and took up a security job at a fraction of his last drawn salary. A year later, when the economy started to recover, he tried going back to work as a technician again, but found to his dismay that his year “away” made it even more difficult for him to secure a technician job again. The trainer told me that this is a typical story for many workers who undergo so-called “skills conversion” certification courses.
These are workers who used to have relatively stable jobs with a decent pay of $2,500 to $4,000 a month, but have in the last few years been facing drastic pay cuts and retrenchments. What have these workers done to bring this all upon themselves? They have worked hard all their lives to eke out a decent living for their families, only to find themselves chucked aside by a brutally capitalist economy that places profits over people. To rub salt into their wounds, politicians in their ivory towers are constantly chiding them for being choosy, unwilling to upgrade their skills, and even lazy compared to foreign workers. They are then told that foreigners need to be imported by the hundreds of thousands, to provide competition to make them better workers.
Is this the price Singaporeans have to pay for “progress”? Does their citizenship and service to the nation–through their National Service and having struggled to raise children–count for nothing now?
Workers are told to go for ‘upgrading’ so that they can ‘upturn the downturn’. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money is poured into training courses and subsidies for employers to send their workers for training. Training seems to be billed as a panacea to all our nation’s labour problems. But how many of them find themselves in the situation of that technician-turned-security guard? Many more, I think, than our government cares to admit.