The People's Action Party's West Coast GRC candidates took aim yesterday at policy proposals of their Reform Party (RP) opponents, calling them "ad hoc" and "seductive, but jeopardising a fundamentally sound system".
Singling out the RP's calls for a cap on foreign worker numbers and an "auction" system to allocate foreign worker permits to businesses, Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Home Affairs, said that these proposals would severely constrain the local manpower base and damage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The 150,000 SMEs would not have the resources to "outbid" big companies for foreign worker permits, he noted, and would have to downsize or close down.
The PAP Government has always emphasised job creation in its policies, such as by funding the training and upgrading of workers, he said.
The opposition party has also called for the establishment of a minimum wage, which PAP candidate Patrick Tay, another member of the four-person slate, said could hurt low-wage workers.
The unionist said the labour movement has opposed the minimum wage call because it could discourage employers from sending workers for training or raising their salaries as companies need only meet the minimum.
There is also the challenge of deciding at which point to set the minimum wage - too high and it runs the risk of pricing out workers, too low and the move would be useless, he said. He said the labour movement preferred to advocate a "progressive wage model" in which companies commit to wage rises tied to productivity increases.
Minister for Trade and Industry Lim Hng Kiang, who co-anchors the PAP team in West Coast with Mr Iswaran, noted that the RP's proposals call for a spike in spending without explaining how it is to be funded.
The RP says its proposals for monthly child and senior support, and to defray MediShield Life premiums, would cost $6 billion.
Mr Lim said that sum had the "potential of ballooning" as Singapore ages.
Referring to the various opposition suggestions, he said: "Everybody's very happy talking about the spend side, but nobody has presented what we are doing to address the growth challenges facing us and how we generate the resources to develop Singaporeans."
This article was first published on September 8, 2015.
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