Channel NewsAsia

Singapore to continue tightening inflow of work permit holders

Singapore will continue to tighten the flow of foreign workers on work permits, even though they fill jobs that may not be attractive to Singaporeans, says Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

SINGAPORE: Singapore will continue to tighten the flow of foreign workers on work permits, even though they fill jobs that may not be attractive to Singaporeans.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin says that's because work permit holders have the "greatest bearing" on foreign worker numbers in Singapore, which are causing strains on the country's infrastructure.

Work permit holders make up about 7 in 10 of Singapore's more than a million foreign workers.

Mr Tan was speaking at a dialogue with Pasir Ris residents during a ministerial visit to the estate.

The dialogue touched on community issues like traffic management in Pasir Ris, youth participation in community activities, and also national issues like foreign manpower policy.

An employer mentioned that Singaporeans are unwilling to take up certain jobs.

"But if wages don't move, it's not surprising that Singaporeans don't want to take those jobs," said Mr Tan. "If the wages are high enough, I think there will be Singaporeans keen to do (the job)."

"But I don't think it'll fill up everything. Which is why it's important for Singapore to still remain open to have foreign labour here," added Mr Tan.

The Acting Manpower Minister said it won't be easy, but Singapore companies will have to change the way they do business, whether through automation or job redesign.

"When you look at your counterparts (in other countries), they operate very differently because for those countries, they didn't always have the same access to foreign labour. It's a very different set-up," he said.

"Construction is a classic example. That's why construction industry's productivity is very low in Singapore, because it's still cheaper to pay and get a Bangladeshi worker or someone from China to work (here), as opposed to changing the way we do business."

Mr Tan said the long-term target is to keep Singapore's overall labour force growth rate to 2 per cent a year for the next 10 years, down from the historical average of 3 to 4 per cent.

He acknowledged there is competition between Singaporeans and foreign workers.

"Foreigners, in a sense, are competing with us. That's globalisation, it's not something we can wish away because it's happening and it's affecting every country in the world. And we're no different," said Mr Tan.

But overall, Mr Tan said, the presence of foreigners remains positive -- in creating opportunities for Singaporeans.

"If we swing too far the other way, you can run the risk that if you become too closed, too tight, inflexible, some of these companies might find that they are better off just operating somewhere else," he said.
 

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