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Written Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on Manpower-Intensive Industries In Productive Economy

Notice Paper No. 386 Of 2014 For The Sitting On 20 January 2015 Question No. 392 For Oral Answer

MP: Christopher de Souza

To ask the Minister for Manpower how will the drive towards a more productive economy be made sufficiently flexible to accommodate manpower-intensive industries such as the construction industry and those industries that are heavily dependent on foreign workers.


  1. MOM understands that foreign manpower needs differ across sectors. We have catered for sector-specific needs by applying different Dependency Ratio Ceilings to the five broad sectors – Construction, Manufacturing, Services, Marine and Process. In general, higher Dependency Ratio Ceilings are granted to industries where the nature of work tends to be relatively unattractive, as locals are less inclined to perform these jobs. For instance, both the Construction and Process sectors enjoy a very high Dependency Ratio Ceiling of seven foreign workers for every local worker hired. We have also provided flexibility in industries where there is an essential economic or social need on an exceptional basis. This explains why we have specific provisions for industries like conservancy and healthcare.
  2. While some flexibility is accorded, we cannot afford to entrench our dependence unsustainably on large numbers of low-skilled foreign workers. For the industries that many of us perceive to be “manpower-intensive” and “heavily dependent on foreign workers”, we should ask ourselves whether such industries are similarly labour-intensive in other developed countries. Often, they are not, with reliance on technology or self-service instead. The higher productivity level of such industries then allows higher wages to be paid.
  3. So we must change the nature of work of many labour-intensive industries to be manpower-lean. Even if it is difficult to attract locals to do such roles, it should still be done with fewer foreign workers, who have good skill levels. Manpower-intensive industries such as Construction can rely on less manpower once a better quality workforce is built up. Our recent announcements, such as mandating a minimum R1 proportion in the Construction sector from 2017 onwards, support this shift.
  4. A productive economy has to be well supported by an experienced and highly skilled workforce. I strongly urge all industries and firms to invest in raising the quality of their workforce and other productive technologies in rising up to our productivity challenge.