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Mon, Aug 30, 2010
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Part 2: Speech from National Day Rally 2010

This is the full speech of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally 2010.

Competition from foreigners

PM Lee: First of all, competition from foreigners. I think many Singaporeans accept the economic logic that the economy needs these foreigners but they fear the impact on them.

What if a foreigner takes my job? What if my own wages get pushed out? I understand this, I empathise and in fact we take measures to help to protect Singaporeans.

For example, as I explained in Chinese just now, we don't allow the foreigners to come in uncontrolled because otherwise we would be swamped and we restrict the foreign workers with dependency ratios, with the foreign worker levies so that when you hire a foreigner, the employer pays an extra foreign worker levy to discourage him from hiring the foreigner and look for a Singaporean instead.

The levies are going up, they are going to go up further and I think they'll have to go up further beyond that in the longer term or maybe the not to long term.

I think some employers may feel the pinch but it is necessary because we need to manage the inflow and not have an indefinite number.

On the other side, we have Workfare which helps low income Singaporeans so that when they work they get a top-up to their wage from the government and that makes it more worth their while to work and improves what they receive and overall they end up better off compared to the foreigner who gets no Workfare.

This year we're going to spend $400 million on Workfare, giving it to 400,000 Singaporeans. That's a lot of money and I think it's a lot of help to our lower income group.

But the protection can only go so far.

If you lack the skills or you're not competitive, then it doesn't matter how high the foreign worker levy is or how generous the Workfare is, the jobs are still going to go elsewhere.

Just like Vancouver could take jobs from Redmond so too many countries can take jobs from Singapore and we have to understand that.

I've discussed this question with the union leaders regularly and they understand the logic.

They were more worried a few years ago when the flows were growing and they were not sure of the impact on Singapore workers but now their members are quite convinced that their companies benefit from being able to hire foreign workers and the union leaders say, yes, it's not an issue with my workers because they understand that the foreigners and the Singaporeans complement each other.

And at the firm level, within each of the companies the foreigners and the Singaporean workers work well together.

They gave me this rather nice example of workers in one hotel where at the Housekeeping Department employs both locals and foreign workers and the locals are the aunties, the more experienced ones and the foreign workers are the younger ones.

And the aunties treat the foreign workers like their own daughters or nieces.

So when they arrive in Singapore they helped to orientate them, even help them to cook or unpack or pack their food for them and the heavier physical tasks like turning over mattresses, younger foreign workers would be able to do and between the two they've worked out a good working relationship and become firm friends, so much so that when one of the foreign workers applied for PR, a supervisor and the union rep both asked the management to assist in the PR application.

I'm not sure whether she succeeded but it shows that the unions and the employers and the workers are getting on well, which I think is very important.

Integration The second worry of Singaporeans is whether the new arrivals will integrate into our society, will they identify with Singapore, will they grow roots here, after all they speak and dress differently, their social norms are different and they may speak no English or very little English.

So it's harder to fit in and communicate, particularly with the non-Chinese.

We encourage the immigrants to learn English.

Our community centres will offer Basic English courses and I think if they'll come up and pick up a few words, this proficiency will help them to integrate and therefore become more ready for permanent residence or citizenship later on should they apply for it.

But more important between language or social graces, the immigrants have to get along with the different communities here, different races here and adopt our egalitarian norms.

This is a multiracial society.

Our Chinese are used to getting along with Malays and Indians, our Indians are used to getting along with Malays and with Chinese, the immigrant Chinese who come, the immigrant Indians who come may not be used to this and it takes some time for them to adjust but they should make the effort. Some of them have gotten along fine.

We have foreign workers now working as bus drivers in SBS. I asked the CEO how does it get along.

And he said, "Well, it's not bad. They sometimes get flak but sometimes it works out very well."

And he gave me an example of Ms Zhao Xiaodong who comes from Dalian and she's the bus captain of Service 109 from Serangoon Interchange to Changi Village going through Pasir Ris and she is well-liked by her passengers, especially the Pasir Ris residents.

So at one point she had to go away for a week, several of the commuters wrote to SBS.

They said, "What's happened to our bus driver? She is polite, she's caring, she's considerate to pregnant women and the elderly.

Have you transferred her to another route or maybe she's left SBS? Whatever it is, please bring her back to Service 109" which I think is where she still is.

>> PM Lee on relationships

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