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Clear shift in growth strategy

  • TODAY (22 November 2012) : Clear shift in growth strategy 
  • TODAY Online (09 November 2012) : Rethink foreign manpower policy?
  • TODAY (10 November 2012) : Govt should look deeper into each sector's manpower needs
  • TODAY (14 November 2012) : Pragmatic solutions needed to address foreign worker issue

Clear shift in growth strategy 
- TODAY, 22 November 2012

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) understands the concerns and feedback shared by businesses on the impact of foreign manpower tightening measures. Similar sentiments have been raised in our regular engagement sessions with industry. At the same time, many businesses we speak to understand and accept the need to moderate our reliance on foreign manpower and raise productivity for sustainable and inclusive growth.

The Government has been clear on its long term strategy. This strategic shift to productivity-led growth and moderating reliance on foreign manpower has been clearly articulated by the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) in 2010.

Since then, the series of deliberate and calibrated measures to raise the quality and moderate the growth of foreign manpower, and to promote restructuring, were not only introduced gradually but also phased in so that businesses can adjust. The adjustments will not be easy, and therefore a complementary package of productivity strategies, incentives and measures was also introduced and progressively enhanced to help businesses over the years. We will continue to do so.

We recognise that businesses need predictability in planning their manpower needs and making informed decisions. MOM seeks to provide this through the online Self-Assessment Tool (SAT) (, for employers to assess if their potential or existing foreign employees will meet the prevailing eligibility criteria for Employment Passes and S Passes. Many companies and their recruitment agencies continue to put in applications for candidates which would be assessed to be ineligible if they had tapped on the Self-Assessment Tool. We urge companies to make full use of the online tool.

Enabling companies to succeed and grow is critical to Singapore, because only when companies prosper and thrive can Singaporeans enjoy better jobs and rising wages. Therefore, even as we moderate the growth in foreign worker numbers and raise the quality of foreign manpower inflows, we continue to allow companies to access necessary skills and manpower needed to build competitive teams. Foreign manpower will remain essential and complementary to our local workforce.

We assure businesses that any policy changes will be made known early to give companies reasonable transition time to make adjustments. We will continue to engage and obtain feedback from our stakeholders, both the business community and the unions, on our policies and processes.

Rethink foreign manpower policy?
- TODAY Online, 09 November 2012

I refer to the report "Govt may further tighten inflow of foreign workers" (Oct 26). It is disappointing to learn from the Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is planning to stay put on their decision regarding the tightening of foreign worker inflows into Singapore.

This will make things very difficult for many enterprises here. If we cannot maintain our competitiveness in the long run, we will surely lose out to our neighbouring countries.

Companies with fewer staff will also put more pressure on their current staff, resulting in stress. If the staff are not happy, they will perform poorly, resulting in unhappy customers.

Business is very competitive these days, and many companies have been hit hard by the poor global economic situation. If companies are not able to cut costs, it would be a sad situation for many.

Many locals also shun certain kinds of jobs such as waiters, or jobs in transportation or construction, and we really have no choice but to hire foreign workers. How will we be able to fill these jobs? As Singaporeans, we ought to appreciate the hard work many foreign workers put in here.

Perhaps the MOM could reconsider their stand on foreign manpower inflows.

From Ishwar Mahtani

Govt should look deeper into each sector's manpower needs
- TODAY, 10 November 2012

The Government's approach on manpower issues seems a little broad. Blanket quotas or higher salary requirements for foreign manpower may be designed to protect locals, but these will not boost productivity or help businesses in areas with labour shortfalls.

Restrictive policies make little sense if locals are not taking up jobs in particular sectors, and the Government must acknowledge that not all sectors can fill their openings.

The issue also appears to be complex when it comes to the jobs Singaporeans want and can do at their expertise level. As it is, employers have to work with a small talent pool locally.
Has our Government looked deeply into each sector's manpower needs and shortages, and deeper into the day-to-day issues businesses face?

At my small-and-medium enterprise (SME) I work at, we are proudly Singaporean and gladly hire Singaporeans but, at times, we must hire the person best qualified, regardless of nationality.
Often, companies such as ours have to hire in the absence of local applicants. But the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) seems unable to grasp the ground situation when we provide feedback.
Why should businesses be penalised for a lack of local applicants? And why must we raise salaries for roles filled by foreigners beyond what we can afford? The gross stereotype is that every business is hiring foreign talent at the expense of a local applicant.

What works for businesses is hiring people willing and able to do the job, with a match between salaries we can afford and applicants' expectations. Once these are addressed, business can run well.

We also need to be competitive. Creating jobs for locals is paramount, but the Government must understand how to improve the environment for both businesses and Singaporeans.
Schemes are provided for businesses and are always appreciated, but this is a separate issue. Productivity schemes cannot realistically provide a job-seeker the impetus to find work any more than baby bonuses can truly motivate Singaporeans to start families.

Tax schemes may help companies to buy more computers but not to hire more locals. The call to retrain workers is also admirable but does not apply to certain specialised sectors.

For example, the Workforce Development Agency once attempted nobly to offer workers a chance to be trained for the television and film production sector, but it never took off because there was not a true match between the workforce and the jobs required.

The same problem applies to new graduates who need to find their direction or be further trained before filling substantial roles.
In a global marketplace, the Government must do its homework or risk driving jobs offshore and crippling the momentum of SMEs here. No one expects the MOM to micromanage every industry, but it should do more to have a dialogue.

Rejecting foreign applications is the easy part, but hiring the right people and building a viable business is another. The Government should exercise greater flexibility and detailed oversight in this area.

From Galen Yeo

Pragmatic solutions needed to address foreign worker issue
- TODAY, 14 November 2012

I refer to the report "Govt may further tighten inflow of foreign workers" (Oct 26) and the letter "There's a cost to having limits on foreigner workers" (Oct 18).

The labour-intensive construction industry employs a substantial number of low-skilled foreign workers because many Singaporeans shun those jobs.

Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin has said that despite the clamour from employers lamenting the manpower shortage, there will be no U-turn on the tightening of foreign worker inflows into Singapore. He further stressed that Singapore cannot continue to rely on low-cost foreign labour to grow the economy.

Nevertheless, our policymakers must work out pragmatic solutions to solve the valid and considerable concerns of the construction industry. It is good to know that Mr Tan said his ministry will continue to listen to feedback from businesses and exercise flexibility where possible.

In the meantime, I hope the ministry can conduct more unscheduled checks on unscrupulous construction contractors who exploit their workers and make them work excessive hours, or deploy them to work at more than one construction site or on more than one job.

Also, I have also heard from professionals in the IT industry that more and more companies are using S-Passes to bring in more junior-level professionals, managers and executives.

These employers may see more tangible benefits in employing foreigners over Singaporeans, as they may receive lower salary packages, possess more working experience and have a sense of loyalty to their employers. This unhealthy trend may mean that our IT graduates from the polytechnics and universities will encounter greater difficulty and stiff competition in seeking jobs.

From Teo Kueh Liang