SINGAPORE: Even amid the COVID-19 situation, foreign worker levies will not be removed as businesses must still be encouraged to rely less on foreign manpower in the longer term, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo in Parliament on Wednesday (Feb 26).
This is despite calls from businesses to waive or reduce the foreign worker levies in light of the economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Currently, the authorities are waiving only levies of foreign workers who have to serve a quarantine, Leave of Absence or Stay-Home Notice when they have a travel history to China.
“In supporting businesses, our priority was also to preserve local employment,” Mrs Teo said during the Budget debate, adding that waiving levies will not help companies staffed only by local employees.
“Second, as much as we want to help businesses, measures to deal with the short-term fallout should not negate efforts for companies to become less reliant on foreign manpower for growth in the longer term,” she added while noting that levies have stayed at its current levels since 2017 for the construction sector, and 2016 or earlier for other sectors.
“Waiving or cutting levies would blunt the motivation to restructure, improve job quality and become more manpower lean.”
S PASS QUOTA CUTS
Mrs Teo also acknowledged the unhappiness towards the S Pass quota cuts for the construction, marine and process sectors announced in the Budget, as these sectors usually have trouble attracting locals.
But unlike work permit level positions, “S Pass jobs are skilled jobs which polytechnic graduates, and even ITE upgraders, are able to perform" Mrs Teo said.
As for the possibility of adjusting certain industries’ S Pass quota if they prove the inability to hire locals, Mrs Teo said doing so could cause tension among employees.
"Which sub-sector or occupation will accept having more restrictions compared to others that have less," she said.
“Which local employees would feel it’s fair that their employers need not worry or try as hard to improve job quality to retain them because of more access to foreigners?"
Moreover, the Capability Transfer Programme and the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme offer employers short-term flexibility in meeting foreign workforce criteria, she said.