Tighter foreign worker policy a 'calibration' to ensure they are good enough, says Lawrence Wong
SINGAPORE: The tighter foreign worker policy announced in Budget 2022 is a "calibration" to ensure these workers are good enough, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on Tuesday (Feb 22).
"The tightening we have made in this Budget is more a calibration," he said during a post-Budget 2022 dialogue aired on Mediacorp's Channel 5 and CNA.
"It doesn't mean we are rejecting foreign workers or foreign professionals. It's a calibration to ensure that foreign workers and professionals coming into Singapore are of the right calibre and coming in areas where we really need them, in areas of shortages."
He was responding to a question on how the Government can ensure that healthcare remains affordable with the tighter policy and capable of coping with the ageing population.
Mr Wong announced in his Budget speech on Friday that minimum qualifying salaries for new Employment Pass (EP) and S Pass applicants will rise by S$500 from September, while the proportion of work permit holders in the construction and process sectors will be reduced from 2024.
Mr Wong reiterated on Tuesday that Singapore must always stay open as a society and an economy.
"We must always have that attitude and mindset that we keep our borders open and we welcome foreign professionals, foreign workers into Singapore to complement our local workforce," he said.
"That must be our attitude because the minute or once we start resisting that, I think we will be in trouble because ... our workforce is ageing. Our labour force growth is declining and we won't have enough workers."
Mr Wong said the tighter foreign worker policy will help strengthen the complementarity between the foreign and local workforce.
"The second thing we can really do is to continue with this push for productivity, to redesign jobs, do more with fewer people, and that's something that healthcare is already embarking on," he added.
"But across all sectors of the economy, we must continue to push for automation and productivity solutions so that even with a lean workforce, we can achieve our goals and everything that we want to strive for."
Another guest, a small business owner in the technology sector, then said he is finding it difficult to hire talent as he is unable to offer them competitive salaries, amid high demand for these employees across the board. His solution is to hire workers in Indonesia and India who work remotely there.
Mr Wong replied that the adjustments to the foreign worker policy do not stop him from getting tech talent, and that he could still hire them under an employment pass.
"In fact, we encourage you, go out and hire an employment pass, bring the best from around the world into Singapore and complement your Singapore team so that we can form the best teams in Singapore to create value together," he said.
"But there will be some lower-wage functions that may not be so viable in Singapore anymore, and some of these jobs indeed, or some of such work indeed may be better done overseas."
In that sense, companies will have to start thinking about how to restructure their operations, Mr Wong said, highlighting that costs and wages are "two sides of the same coin".
"We all talk about wanting wages for Singaporeans to go up. But if we depress costs in Singapore, how do the wages of Singaporeans rise? So it's that dilemma that we face, right?" he said.
Mr Wong said this means that the Government again has to find the balance between higher costs and paying Singaporean workers more.
"But the key is to focus on the capabilities of the Singaporean workforce, make sure that we can command that premium in wages, continue to create value, to be innovative, to be productive," he added.
"And that's how we can do well in this new economy."
Watch the full dialogue: