LIM SWEE SAY: GOVT WON’T RELAX FOREIGN WORKER QUOTA

Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) form about 31 per cent of the resident workforce. By 2030, two-thirds of Singaporeans are expected to hold PME jobs. Naturally, one focus would be this group of workers.

The Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) introduced last August requires firms to prove that they have tried to hire Singaporeans first, by posting job ads for 14 days at the National Jobs Bank. If they cannot find a suitable Singaporean candidate, only then, can they hire a foreigner on Employment Pass.

New Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the framework is being reviewed but that was all he would say at the moment: “What is the purpose of FCF? Fair Consideration… but the outcome? What’s the outcome? Strong Singaporean core. The next step, we talk about the how. How can we refine, how can we further strengthen FCF for example, to support one or all of this outcome.”

The outcome he is talking about is to create good businesses, careers and growth for the economy. Mr Lim explained how to get there, using flip charts – it would involve strengthening the Singaporean core, getting companies to become manpower-lean, uplifting the standards of the foreign workforce to ensure the country’s competitiveness, he said.

NO LENIENCY IN FOREIGN WORKER POLICY

Mr Lim added that companies need to realise that there is no turning back on foreign worker policies, even for sectors appealing for some leniency. “We have reached a point of no return. If they (the companies) keep hoping that the Ministry of Manpower will revisit our policy on foreign workers to treat them special, give them higher quotas and so on, that is not possible,” said Mr Lim.

Any further relaxation, and Singaporeans will be outnumbered by foreign workers, he said. The ratio of locals to foreign workers has been going down over the years – from 4:1 to the current 2:1.

“We cannot afford to continue to adopt a more liberal policy towards taking in foreign manpower,” said Mr Lim. “If we continue to do so, the ratio of local workers versus foreign manpower will continue to decline. As mentioned, from 4:1, 3:1 to 2:1 and in the near future, if we continue this path, it’ll be 1:1. And beyond that, one day Singaporeans will wake up to find ourselves a minority in the Singapore workforce and obviously, that’s not sustainable, that’s not desirable.

“So asking the Ministry of Manpower to give them an increased foreign worker quota, that is not viable.”

RAMPING UP WORKER TRAINING

Strengthening the Singaporean core will require a range of strategies, tied to initiatives under SkillsFuture.They include ramping up the Earn and Learn programme to help polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education graduates master their skills, professional development of workers and technology transfers from foreign professionals to Singaporean workers.

Mr Lim said his ministry will work with industries to identify and provide more support to early movers who are committed to ramping up productivity and investing in worker training.

Making better use of the foreign workforce is another key strategy. The ministry is looking at ways to formalise the skills ladder for this group.

“There must be a skills ladder and this skills ladder must be applied to both locals and foreigners,” Mr Lim said. “Second thing is, for some of the foreign workers, the skills ladder can be better formalised. If they move from unskilled to skilled, then they can enjoy some savings on the foreign worker levy. But at the same time, we also agreed that the main purpose of upgrading the skills of the workers is not just to help them to reduce the foreign worker levy.

“At the end of the day, it will serve us no purpose if the unskilled foreign worker goes through training to become a skilled foreign worker, to have a lower foreign worker levy and yet go back to an unskilled job – then we will achieve nothing. What we want is to be manpower-lean.”

Mr Lim was appointed as Manpower Minister after helming the labour movement for eight years as Secretary-General. He said the transition was seamless and proves that the notion of tripartism in Singapore, is both pro-worker, and pro-business.

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