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Speech by Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower at Committee of Supply 2016

  1. I thank Members who have shared their insights and questions on the labour market in Singapore.
  2. Minister Heng said in his round up speech that Budget 2016 is but “one step in a long journey”. From the Manpower Ministry’s angle, this is not a walking step but a running step. In fact, more like a jumping step.
  3. Since coming to MOM just about a year ago, I have been asked many questions on our labour policies. Employers looking for workers say they cannot find local workers. They ask, can MOM relax (its policies) on foreign workers – up the quota, down the levy – and be more pro-business?
  4. Workers looking for jobs, especially those looking for PMET jobs, say they cannot get the jobs they want, or the promotion they feel they deserve. So they ask, can MOM be more pro-workers, and why not “Singaporean first”, “Singaporean Only”?
  5. In the past 5 years from 2010 to 2015, employment rate for those aged 25-64 has gone up to 80.5%, among the highest in the world. Unemployment rate, at less than 2% overall, and less than 3% for locals, is among the lowest in the world.
  6. Income growth was broad based. Real wage went up by 3% in real terms per year, not just median but the bottom 20th percentile as well. Profile of jobs has continued to improve. Local PMET employment now accounts for 54% of total local employment. So these are good employment outcomes for our workers, and for our people.
  7. The next 5 years will be much more challenging. We are going to see a drop in the growth of labour force, a sharp and structural drop. The growth in local labour force will drop by more than half, from an average of 55,000 a year in the past five years to just around an average of 20,000 a year for the next five years. So it will drop by more than half.
  8. Likewise, the growth in foreign workforce will drop too - also by more than half, from an average of 55,000 per year too in the last 5 years to just 20,000 – 25,000 in the next five years. So put together, the Singapore Workforce growth will continue to drop from 4% a year in 2011-2014 to 2% last year and likely around 1% by 2020. So, from 4% to 2%, and to 1% by 2020. This has great impact on the future employment landscape. Days of more than 100,000 job growth a year are over. It is simply not sustainable.
  9. So with no gain in productivity, we have moved from 4 + 0 = 4. 4% growth in Singapore Workforce plus 0% growth in productivity to give us 4% GDP growth in the year 2011-2014 on the average. Last year, it dropped to 2+0=2. 2% workforce growth, 0% productivity to give us 2% growth in GDP. 
  10. Question is: what will happen next? From 4+0=4, to 2+0=2. What is going to happen next? Will employment outcomes in next 5 years be better or worse?
  11. I can think of three possible scenarios– the Good, the Bad, and of course, the Ugly.
  12. The first scenario: we are unable to transform fast enough, continue with zero productivity growth, and continue with manpower-led growth with more than 100,000 jobs a year.
  13. MOM has no choice – we do a U-turn, relax on foreign manpower which is what many employers are asking for. So from 4+0, to 2+0, we will now go back to 3+0, because we let in more foreign workers to make up for the slower growth in local manpower. With 3+0= 3, yes, we have 3% GDP growth. But what happens to our local-foreign worker ratio? It will continue to drop, from the 2:1 today, maybe to 1:1, and beyond that, locals will become the minority in our workforce. Singaporean Core will be weakened further. Our local – foreign divide will deepen further. This is what I call an “Ugly” scenario. 
  14. The second scenario: to avoid this ugly outcome, MOM can stand firm. No U-turn in our foreign manpower policy, continue to moderate the intake of foreign manpower.
  15. But without breakthrough in productivity growth, we will go from 4+0 to 2+0 to eventually 1+0 =1. In other words, low growth will become the new norm, in fact hovering around stagnation. If that happens, it is a matter of time that unemployment in Singapore will go up, and wage growth will stop. I call this a “Bad” scenario for all.
  16. The third scenario: recognising that technology is changing the nature of jobs and global competition is changing the nature of investment, instead of manpower-led growth of 100,000 new jobs a year, we go for manpower-lean growth. We speed up transformation. Instead of going for larger quantity of job growth, we go for better quality job growth.
  17. So step by step, sector by sector, we move from high value-added to value creation. From value-creation to value-multiplication. Then we can return to positive productivity growth again.
  18. Instead of going from 4+0, 2+0 to 3+0 (which is the ugly outcome) or 1+0 (which is the bad outcome), we should strive for 1+2, i.e. 1% growth in our workforce and 2% growth in our productivity to give us a 3% growth. 1+2=3 is a “good outcome” that we must strive for.
  19. The challenge for us is how to make it happen. Along the way, if we are more pro-business and less pro-worker, we could end up with a strong economy with weak Singaporean Core.
  20. If we are more pro-worker but less pro-business, we can have a strong Singaporean Core but a weak economy. Neither is good. Growth cannot be sustained, and eventually it will go downhill.
  21. The only way to succeed is for us to be more pro-business and more pro-worker both at the same time. So that we can have both a manpower-lean and productive economy, with a strong Singaporean Core.
  22. This is why MOM will focus our labour policies along three main thrusts:

    First, to support industry transformation to become more manpower-lean and more productive.

    Second, to build a strong Singaporean Core.

    Third, to strengthen the global competitiveness of the Singapore workforce, comprising both local and foreign manpower.

  23. First, to be a more manpower-lean and a more productive economy. This is of great concern to MOM because if we fail to become a more manpower-lean economy, manpower will become the bottleneck in our future growth.
  24. Hence, Industry Transformation Maps are so important for us to visualise the industry of the future, to make better use of technology, manpower and innovation to break the bottlenecks of small-size limited resources, especially manpower limitations. To forge a new mindset of Lean Transformation, Lean Innovation. From Lean Manufacturing to Lean Services; from Lean Industry to Lean Enterprise.
  25. Mr Lee Yi Shyan and Mr Thomas Chua will be pleased to note that we are giving special attention and support to the SMEs. SMEs employ two-thirds of the workforce, so the Singapore economy cannot become more manpower-lean, cannot become more productive and innovative if our SMEs are not. 
  26. Hence, MOM, together with the agencies under the MTI family, launched the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme (LEDS) last year to help SMEs develop their capabilities, their manpower and their markets, including international markets. And with the newly announced Automation Support Scheme, in addition to manpower development, capability development and market development, we can now add one more pillar, which is capacity expansion. Therefore, we are very determined to speed up the LEDS during this slowdown.
  27. My commitment to the SMEs is that those with a solid plan and real action to become more manpower-lean and productive, you can be assured of our best support. Not just MOM but all the other agencies under the LEDS. In fact, MOM will also provide transitional flexibility in foreign worker support, a point brought up by Mr Lee Yi Shyan. Later, my colleague, Minister of State Teo Ser Luck will share more on the LEDS. 
  28. Our second thrust is to build a strong Singaporean Core. 
  29. Every Industry Transformation Map will be accompanied by a Sectoral Manpower Plan, formulated by the Sectoral Tripartite Committees. This will respond to what Mr Lee Yi Shyan talked about, whether MOM will be involved in co-driving the Industry Transformation Plan. In fact, we will be coordinating our efforts through the Sectoral Manpower Plan. 
  30. Ms Jessica Tan has also expressed her concern about whether we can minimise the mismatch between skills and jobs. With the Sectoral Manpower Plans, we will be able to look ahead and identify what kind of jobs will be created and what kind of skills need to be developed for the future, so that we can support the growth of the industry in the future. In this way, we will also help our people to upgrade and reskill. We aim to build a strong Singaporean Core in all major sectors of the economy, as we continue to transform these industries. 
  31. The hotel sector is one good example. It is an important sector, alongside many other sectors. We are going to see a 20% increase in hotel rooms in Singapore by the year 2020. But the hotel industry is fully aware that it is not possible for them to grow the workforce in the hotel sector by 20% because of the keener competition for manpower as we slow down the growth of the workforce. 
  32. So under the Sectoral Manpower Plan for the hotel sector, we have three priorities. Firstly, how to become manpower lean. The hotels are working very hard to reduce the staff-to-room manning ratio. So that as the number of hotel rooms go up, they do not have to increase the number of workers by the same proportion. Secondly, how to strengthen the Singaporean Core. How to attract, develop, retain and improve the quality of locals working in this sector. And last but not least, the Service Transformation into hotels of the future so that we can remain globally competitive.
  33. So in support of this, the industry through the Sectoral Manpower Plan, NTUC, e2i, STB, WDA, unions and industry associations are working very closely together to attract ITE, Polytechnic diploma and degree holders under an Executive Development Programme for the hotel sector, for them to join the Hospitality, F&B and Retail sectors, a point brought up by Mr Lee Yi Shyan. 
  34. First, it will help them to learn supervisory skills and will put them through 12-18 months of on-the-job-training (OJT) so that they can become Duty Managers or Assistant Managers, and from there develop their careers.
  35. We are also facilitating the entry of mid-career PMETs through our Professional Conversion Programme. At the same time, we are helping them to become more lean and productive. So for example, workers in the hotel sector are now undergoing the process of becoming multi-skilled so that each person can perform more than one task and thereby optimise the deployment of manpower. And along the way, help them to enhance their wages. 
  36. Another example would be through the use of RFID to strengthen the process of automation. In fact, STB and WDA are working with the hotel industry to formulate the initiatives which will be known as the Lean Hotel Initiative. In other words, make this a movement within our hotel sector, so that the jobs of the future in this hotel sector will become more attractive, so that the Singaporean Core will be stronger. 
  37. Dr Intan asked about the InfoComm Sector. We will adopt the same line. So in the InfoComm Sector, under the leadership of IDA, we are formulating the Sectoral Manpower Plan, so all the areas of opportunity will be identified and we will step up our efforts to channel more Singaporeans into those sectors. 
  38. As we speed up industry transformation, redundancy will go up, as seen in recent years. Most are able to find jobs, hence our low unemployment today. Yet, we are still concerned because we are seeing among the workers made redundant, that there are more mature workers, there are more PMETs, and in fact, they also need more time to find jobs, especially the mature PMETs. 
  39. Besides helping to strengthen the Singaporean Core at the sector level, like what we did for hotel sector, we must also do more to support Singaporean workers at the individual level.We share the concerns of Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim, Mr Chong Kee Hiong and Ms Jessica Tan, and we will do more to support them.
  40. The “Adapt and Grow” initiative will provide enhanced employment support to help Singaporeans, especially the mature PMETs and those affected by redundancy. 
  41. We launched Career Support Programme (CSP) in October last year to encourage employment of mid-career PMETs (who are made redundant), especially those who are long-term unemployed, who have been out of a job for more than six months. 
  42. So under the CSP, to encourage employers to hire these mid-career PMETs and pay wages of at least $4,000 a month, we offer wage support of 10% to 40% for first year of employment. So a mid-career PMET who has been out of job for at least six months, they can come under the CSP and we will help them to find employers. And for the first year of employment under the CSP, we will actually subsidise wages of up to $12,600 for that first year. And for those who are more than 50 years old, they will get up to $25,200 for that first year. 
  43. So, in the last five months, we managed to reach out to 200 mature PMETs who have been out of a job for more than six months. So far, about half of them have successfully secured employment and most with SMEs. Mr Thomas Chua may be happy to hear this. 
  44. Now we have had very positive feedback from both the employers and the employees. Because for the employees, they suffer less cut in wages given the wage support, and for the employers, they have lower wage cost given the subsidies. 
  45. One example is Mr Kuan Mun Fai (52). He was a Business Development Director with a MNC for 23 years. He left the company and for seven months he could not find a job that was suitable for him. So he came under the CSP when it was launched in October. At that time, he was feeling unsure whether he would be able to get a job that he was looking for. But today he is a different person - confident and positive. Under the CSP, within one month, we helped him to find a good job with a local distributor of industrial lighting products, to develop markets in ASEAN and East Asia. Yes, he did accept a salary cut to join this company. But he was prepared to work his way up with this new employer. And I wish him well.
  46. To help more PMETs, we have decided to extend the CSP to two more groups of people, beyond those who are mature and long-term unemployed. For PMETs made redundant and have difficulty finding jobs, meaning six months or more, we will waive the age requirement of 40. In other words, even younger PMETs, having been made redundant, if they have difficulty finding jobs for more than six months, they can come under CSP. 
  47. The other group is the mature PMETs made redundant. We will waive the requirement on the six-month unemployment period. The moment they are retrenched, for those who are 40 and above, they can apply to join CSP straight away without having to wait for six months.
  48. Under the CSP, we cannot and are unable to promise the same job or the same pay. What we promise is our full support to help them find jobs as quickly as possible, to start again at mid-career with salary of at least $4000 so that they can they can grow again from there. 
  49. We are also helping more PMETs to switch careers. A lifelong career with same company or even the same industry has become less likely for many people. Many mid-career PMETs may have to make career change due to redundancy or other personal reasons. That is the reason why we launched the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) in 2007 where we provide training and wage support of up to 70% for the entire duration of training, which is typically about two years or less. Currently, there are ten sectors under the PCP. Since the launch in 2007, over 7,000 PMETs have benefited from this scheme. 
  50. One of them is Chong Kim Sem (49). He was not retrenched, but he decided to make a career switch from Electronics to Biologics. Why? Mr Chong looked at Biologics as an emerging sector with tremendous potential. There is a rising demand for medicines in Asian markets. There is good career progression pathway, whether in HQ Operations, Manufacturing or R&D, in this sector. He read in the media that EDB said that there is a healthy pipeline - new plants as well as plant expansion over the next five years. This sector will be growing in the next 5 years and there would be more jobs and more opportunities. 
  51. As a result, he took a pay cut willingly as he had no prior experience in the sector. He was supported under the PCP and he received PCP WSQ Higher Cert in Process technology. He is now working as a Senior QA specialist. With his maturity and adaptability, I am very sure that he will find Biologics a good career, one that will be good for him for next ten, 15 years and beyond. 
  52. Dr Intan and Ms Thanaletchimi will be pleased to know that we are stepping up efforts in the existing 10 PCP sectors. Healthcare is one example. In the last 3 years, on the average, we attracted about 370 PMETs to join the PCP for the healthcare sector. This year, working together with MOH, we jointly launched programmes for Diagnostic Radiographers, Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists. As a result, we saw a 60% increase in response rate. This year, we have about 600 PMETs applying to go through the professional conversion, up from 370 per year in the last three years. 
  53. We are doing the same for other areas such as Media & Design, going into areas like game writers and advertising. We are also going to extend the PCP to more sectors, especially those that are hiring and still growing. For example, Chemicals and Pharmaceuticals, Logistics and Retail. 
  54. In addition, we recognise that some PMETs may not be switching career from one sector to another sector. But they want to switch career within the same sector but in a different area of specialisation. In the case of ICT, there are now specialisations where there is growing demand – cybersecurity, network administration, software development and other emerging jobs under Smart Nation initiative. 
  55. So I am happy to say that henceforth, PCP will now support intra-sectoral as well as inter-company conversion. If Company A is downsizing and retrenching workers, and Company B could be growing and expanding, we will support Company B to take over the retrenched workers from Company A and help them to go through the professional conversion, even at a company level. 
  56. Another way of helping mid-career PMETs is to match more of their expertise to SMEs. Many SMEs are growing and still hiring and are looking for PMETs with experience and expertise. I was told that three areas of expertise are popular and in great demand - business development, marketing & sales and operations management. 
  57. On the other hand, we also heard that many mid-career PMETs are not familiar with career opportunities in SMEs. So we launched P-Max a year ago to connect mid-career PMETs and SMEs better. I am happy to say that in the last one year, we matched over 800 PMETs to about 800 SMEs.
  58. Evelyn Ng is one of them. She has 25 years of experience in operations, HR and admin with MNCs. She stopped work for one year to look after mother. Under the P-Max, we matched her expertise to SME and she is now HR & Admin Manager in an SME. So we are going to expand P-Max through more partners, trade associations and chambers. Our aim is to help place more than 1,000 PMETs under this programme every year.
  59. CSP, PCP, P-Max which I have covered so far are targeted at PMETs. As brought up by Mr Chong Kee Hiong, we should not neglect the rank and file workers. And we have not. Rank and file jobseekers would likewise get more help under our Adapt and Grow programme. 
  60. We have a very successful Place and Train programme at NTUC e2i. Under this programme, we provide salary support of 70%, up to $2,000 per month. We provide training subsidies of up to 90%, and typically these training would last three to six months. Last year, under the Place and Train programme, e2i placed 1,200 rank and file workers.
  61. More sectors and more programmes will be introduced this year to expand the outreach of Place and Train programme. For example in the Hotel sector, they are looking for guest services officers. In the Infocomm Media sector, they are looking for communication and network associates, and cybersecurity at the NITEC level.
  62. In addition to Place and Train, e2i and Career Centres of WDA also provide career guidance. Every year, we conduct more than 200 job fairs to introduce more than 20,000 jobs to our jobseekers. Last year, we helped to place 11,000 rank and file workers.
  63. Mohd Fadzli Bin Abdul Rahim, 30 years old, is one of them. 
  64. He was working as a cleaner, earning $1,500. He approached WDA career centre for career advice and career guidance, and we guided him to move into the areas of Workplace Safety and Health. He went on to receive the WSQ certificate, followed by the WSQ Advanced Certificate in Workplace Safety and Health. Today, he is working as a safety coordinator, earning $2,200. This is a big increase from $1,500. 
  65. Now in some cases, when we try to match the rank-and-file workers with the employers looking to fill these jobs, both sides are actually unsure about each other. The job seekers are unsure about the job and the employer is unsure about the worker. So what do we do? We say, “Never mind, go on a work trial”. So, for 80 hours, WDA will pay an allowance to the person and the employer doesn’t have to pay anything. They just work together for 80 hours, just to try out. The idea is for the workers to try out the jobs, and for the employer to try out the workers. 
  66. One example is Foo Lai Leng, 57 years old. She returned to work after ten years due to family commitments and wanted to try out the Early Childhood Sector. But, she wasn’t sure if this sector was suitable for her. So we put her under a Work Trial, and after 80 hours, she decided that ‘yes’, this is the career that she’s interested. Likewise, the company also found her suitable. Today, she’s working full-time, as an assistant teacher. In fact, she’s now going for her diploma in Early Childhood Education as her next target. 
  67. We intend to help more and more job seekers, especially for those who are unsure about what to do under this Work Trial programme. WDA will up the allowance to $600 for 80 hours. At the same time, we will raise our retention incentive. 
  68. So, on the whole, for both the rank-and-file workers and PMETs, we are stepping up efforts in employment facilitation for them. 
  69. E2i and the WDA Career Centres, and together with their partners, have helped over 6,000 PMETs and over 11,000 rank-and-file workers a year to get jobs. With enhanced coverage and support under the Adapt and Growth initiatives, we are committed to help even more PMETs and rank-and-file workers. 
  70. Besides workshops, seminars and recruitment events, job fairs, we are going to introduce e-services. For example, e2i are now trying out the concept of a virtual job fair. It’s a job fair but it doesn’t happen in the real world; it’s in the virtual world. And they help the job seekers submit, not resumes, but “visumes”. So I was asking e2i, what’s the difference between a resume and a visume? 
  71. They said that the term “visume” stands for “video-resume”. E2i will help the job seeker to do a video-recording of how the person would describe himself and present his resume in the video form. They will then send this video to the prospective employer, and the prospective employer will actually look at it virtually over the internet. And apparently, the response has been quite positive. So, e2i intends to do more. 
  72. WDA, likewise, is introducing more e-career services, such as online matching as well as online forum communities. We will also improve information support for both the employers and job seekers. 
  73. The National Jobs Bank does contain a lot of useful information - the point brought up by Professor Randolph Tan. Our challenge will be in terms of how to do more data analytics to make those information more useful, more user-friendly and enable job seekers and employers to do more self-help, so that they can navigate this information. 
  74. So, we are now studying best-in-class job portals in other countries and we intend to collaborate with leading edge partners to improve the interface to make it more useful for both job seekers, and as well as the employers. We hope to see improvements progressively over the next 12 months.1 
  75. Lastly, another area we will strengthen is our partnership with the Employment Agency (EA) industry - the point brought up by Patrick Tay. We are going to work more closely with the industry to understand the current placement practices. We also want to see how can we work with them, encourage them, or regulate the industry in such a way that they will pay more attention to the placement of local PMETs. And we are going to partner with the best-in-class placement companies. For example, those with industry specialisations or those who are more job-seeker centric. This is because EAs tend to be more employer-centric rather than job seeker-centric. So, we are looking for a new model with the EA industry, which have the incentive to be more job seeker-centric. These EAs will have strong networks of employers and know where the job opportunities are. 
  76. So in short, our second thrust is to strengthen Singaporean Core. First, through a sector by sector approach by way of the Sectoral Manpower Plans. They will channel as many Singaporeans we can into these respective sectors, and ensure that we have a strong Singaporean Core in all the major sectors as we transform them. Secondly, through an enterprise by enterprise approach and also “individual by individual”, through the career and employment support programmes that I have described earlier. We will do our very best to help our job seekers. But we need our job seekers to do their very best to help themselves too. 
  77. To those fellow Singaporeans who are affected by redundancy, my concern is that the longer they are out of employment, the harder it will be for them to get back to employment. Therefore, our priority is to help them get back to work quickly. We are unable to promise no pay cut or guarantee of job offers, but what we do promise is our best effort to help, with a variety of options, and a diversity of opportunities. We need them to do their best to help themselves, be prepared to adapt to different jobs. Also, if necessary, in different sectors and even accept different pay, so that they can grow again. 
  78. Our third and final thrust is to strengthen the global competitiveness of our Singapore Workforce. The Singapore Workforce today is made up of two-thirds local and one-third foreign. 
  79. As I mentioned earlier, someone asked me, “why not Singaporean only? Stop them from coming in” Or “Why not Singaporean first? Only when no Singaporean can do the job, or want to do the job, then we allow them to come in”. 
  80. I recall, during my days with the EDB. We walked the streets, knocked on doors. We made cold calls, we made hot calls, we have tough calls and we have friendly calls. Calls after calls. Why? Because quality investments are very hard to come by and competition is global. The better the investment, the stronger the competition and the stronger the competitors. And investors have higher demands. And the toughest demand of all for Singapore to meet is not land or water, but manpower.
  81. One good illustration is wafer-fabrication plants. We started chasing after wafer-fabrication plants because we knew that consumer electronics, after a while, will be phased out as low value-added activities. We foresaw that disk drives will undergo major restructuring one day and we needed to find a new growth sector. So 20 years ago, we identified wafer-fabrication industry, as the next growth industry. Each plant costs about USD$1 billion to build. Each plant is water-intensive; they need to use 1 million gallons of water every day. Fortunately, we have Newater. So today, they are all supplied with Newater. But most importantly, each plant will need 1,000 workers – 500 PMETs and 500 production specialists. Our local manpower is good, but we do not have enough, in terms of the range of expertise, experience, and most of all, in number. We just don’t have the number. As we result, we worked with these investors to borrow PMETs and workers from all around the world, bring them into Singapore, so that we can bridge three manpower gaps that we face – the number gap, the capability gap, and the timing gap. 
  82. And I must say that this manpower strategy has worked really well for us. Today, we have 13 wafer-fabrication plants, employing 8,000 PMETs and 8,000 operators. Of the 8,000 PMETs, 76% (6,000) of them are our local engineers and local PMETs. Yes, we had 2,000 PMETs in Singapore, but together with that 2,000 we were able to create jobs for 6,000 local PMETs. 
  83. Looking back, if we had insisted on “Singaporean Only” or “Singaporean First”, I think these plants, many other investments and many other good jobs would not be here today. So, having foreign manpower in our Singapore Workforce is a “plus” for us. This is not because Singaporeans are not good, but because we simply do not have enough in numbers, in readiness and in diversity of capabilities to meet the needs of the global investors and to beat the offers of the other global competitors. 
  84. As we transform and grow into the future, we need to compete for even more, even better investments, and we have to face even bigger, even stronger competitors. The demands from investors will only get higher, especially on manpower. We stand a better chance of beating the competition for better investments and jobs, if our local manpower and foreign manpower here work together as one Singapore Workforce. 2/3 + 1/3 as one Singapore Workforce, rather than as two competing workforces – 2/3 versus 1/3. We must remember that 2/3 versus 1/3 will always be less than one. At the end of the day, we must recognise that the real competition is out there globally, not in here locally. 
  85. Today, at the national level, foreigners account for 21% of jobs within the EP salary range, which is currently $3,300. In other words, of all the jobs in Singapore that pay more than $3,300 today, foreigners account for 21%, and the local share is 79%. By sector, the foreign share varies across the industries. The highest are found in Infocomm and F&B at around 37%. In all other sectors and industries, the ratio of foreign to local counterparts is less than 1:2, less than 1/3. 
  86. We must also bear in mind that the growth of Employment Passes (EPs) has also slowed down from 32,000 in 2011, to 9,000 last year. So, from 32,000, it has dropped to 9,000. Even though the overall ratio at the national level shows that foreigners are the minority, yet there is a perception amongst some Singaporeans – “Why am I the minority in my workplace, working here in Singapore?”. Why is that the case? 
  87. I think the answer, is what I call “pockets of EP concentration” in some companies, segments of industries, and at some locations. This is highly undesirable because these “pockets of EP concentration” have led to the perception that we have a liberal approach in our intake of EPs. This is not the case. There are also accusations of unfair consideration for locals or discrimination against our local PMETs. 
  88. I am also concerned that some of these employers may have violated the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations. They require companies to take, and let me quote:

         a. “reasonable efforts to provide fair employment opportunities to citizens of Singapore, including efforts to attract and consider such citizens for employment or to train them and develop their careers and potential in the workforce”
  89. We will therefore refine the processing of work pass applications for EP. Currently, when processing EP applications, we assess the individual-related criteria, their qualifications, their experience, their salary. Going forward, we will also be looking at three additional factors that are company-related. So, not just individual-related criteria but also company-related. And the assessment will be carried out by TAFEP – Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices.
  90. First assessment, how strong is the Singaporean Core in these companies today? Majority of companies as I mention earlier in the same industry have healthy Singaporean Core but there are outliers, significantly weaker than the industry norms
  91. Second assessment, with a weak Singapore Core today, do they have any firm commitment to nurture and strengthen the Singaporean Core for the future? Thirdly, in consultation with relevant economic agencies, we will assess how relevant are these “double weak” companies - weak Singaporean core, weak commitment to nurture Singaporean core, how relevant are these double weak companies to our economy and society? If they are not here, how much will we be affected? And if the answer is not much, they are what we call the “triple weak” companies, i.e. weak in Singaporean Core, weak in commitment and at the same time, weak economic linkage and social impact. 
  92. Mr Patrick Tay has shared his concerns regarding these “triple weak” companies, which are our targets for closer scrutiny. At TAFEP’s recommendation, they will be put on the “Watchlist”. Not because we are anti-foreigner but because their behaviour has added to the deepening of “local-foreign” divide in our Singapore Workforce. If left unchecked, the sentiment of “2/3 vs 1/3” will continue to grow, it will weaken the unity and cohesion and eventually the overall competitiveness of Singapore.
  93. TAFEP has already served notice on about 100 companies. These are the outliers in various sectors, companies with a Singaporean core which is much weaker than the industry norm. All of them have majority EP share of more than 50% and they display weak commitment to recruit and develop local PMETs. TAFEP is engaging them to improve HR practices and will review, company by company, over the next few months. So far, these firms have been broadly cooperative. Some of them have acknowledged that they have room to strengthen Singaporean Core. Some of them have approached e2i / WDA to source for local PMETs, through CSP and PCP. Some of them have engaged external help to review their internal HR process.
  94. For those “triple weak” companies with no progress made, at the recommendation of TAFEP, their work pass privileges can be suspended. Renewal of existing EPs and processing of new EP applications will be affected. Curtailment of work pass privileges will have serious consequences on their continued operation and growth in Singapore. 
  95. We hope they will take corrective actions, move out of the “triple weak” list. Don’t just grow their business here but treat Singaporeans fairly too and help build a stronger Singaporean Core in their companies and industries. And I want to assure the vast majority of companies out there that they are not “triple weak” and hence will not be affected by this move. MOM will continue to serve them as per current practice. There is nothing to fear, as long as they continue to treat local PMETs fairly.
  96. As we take firm action against the “triple weak” companies, we also take proactive action to recognise and partner with those who are “triple strong” i.e. Strong in Singaporean Core, Strong commitment to nurture Singaporean core and Strong economic linkage or social impact, especially in sectors that are crucial to our future growth; such as, smart nation, advanced manufacturing, future services and more.
  97. I am very encouraged and impressed by a few I have visited so far. They believe in the development of Human Capital. They tap on foreign PMETs to complement and strengthen the overall team and at the same time, they also pay special attention to value and nurture our local talents by transferring capability to them, by giving them exposure and nurture them, for higher responsibilities both locally, regionally and globally.
  98. So in other words, instead of the mind-set of 2/3 versus 1/3, they embrace the mindset of 2/3 + 1/3 and for some of them, 2/3 + 1/3 can actually be bigger than one. To help strengthen the positive mindset of 2/3 + 1/3, we are going to grow this “triple strong” community.
  99. MOM will launch a Human Capital Partnership (HCP) Programme later this year. We are going to help them to tap on SkillsFuture to strengthen Singaporean Core at all levels in these triple strong companies - Earn and Learn at entry level, SkillsFuture Mid-Career Enhanced Subsidy, Leadership Development Initiative. And to provide greater facilitation to them to bring in foreign talents with the expertise to strengthen and transfer capability to our local PMETs. We can study some of the suggestions made by Mr Seah Kian Peng. 
  100. One flagship initiative under the HCP is to nurture promising local talents into regional talents into potential global talents. Tentatively, I intend to call this programme the Glocal Talent Development Program. Through this combination of efforts, countering “triple weak”, partnering the “triple strong”, we want to send a clear signal and strong message that whether you are local or foreigner, whether employer or employee, whether union or management, we all have a role to play, to work together, to strengthen Singapore Workforce, to compete for best investments and jobs, to Singapore for all to share.
  101. Madam Chair, may I speak in Mandarin?

    在最近与中小型企业老板的谈话中,我问了他们对近期经济的感想。他们答 - 市场很静。再问他们的打算 – 他们说 – 前景不明朗,还是先按兵不动,不做就没错,先安然渡过难关,日后再打算。


    世界不停的改变。好的时候,它会变。不好的时候,它也会变。不同的是 - 在不好的时候,它的转变更快,幅度更大。


    要转变,或转型,说是容易,做就难,尤其是中小型企业。这点,我明白。这也是我推出精益企业发展计划的原因,将各个机构的援助计划搜罗在内,提供一站式服务,全力帮助中小型企业蜕变。我们将从3方面着手,帮助企业开发技能,推动人力发展,并开拓新市场。现在加上刚宣布的自动化辅助配套,我们更可以加快步伐, 在今日转型,以便在明日茁壮成长。







    人力部已扩充其所有就业辅助计划,来帮助更多工友 – 老少,不分一般工友或专业,经理和执行人员,在各行业转型之际,不断的应变与提升。我们会为你们创造新工作,并帮助你们争取这些更好的就业机会,从而加强我们以新加坡人为核心的工作队伍。





  102. I became an active member of Singapore Tripartism when I joined NTUC in 1996, 20 years ago. At that time, I learned from then-Secretary General Brother Lim Boon Heng that a job is the best welfare for our workers. Then came the Asian Financial Crisis. We saw record retrenchments; about 29,000 workers lost their jobs. Unemployment went up. Workers and union leaders were worried about the future. So I added one more line. Job is the best welfare. And full employment is the best protection for our workers.
  103. The positive employment outcomes that I outlined earlier and that we have today did not come easy – it did not happen by chance. We actually made it happen here in Singapore. In the Labour Movement, there is a strong spirit of solidarity because the Labour Movement always believes that unity is strength. And I believe that this spirit applies to the whole nation. 
  104. We have major challenges to overcome, as I outlined earlier, to transform to be manpower lean and productive, to build a strong Singapore Core and to strengthen the global competitiveness of the Singapore workforce. Working in unity, Whole of Government, Whole of Tripartism, Whole of Singapore, I believe we can succeed. And we must succeed. To secure the best welfare – good jobs, good careers. And the best protection - high employment, low unemployment for our fellow workers, our fellow Singaporeans.


  1. Refer to Annex for Factsheet on Adapt and Grow