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Edwin Tong: Need to stay competitive, ageing demographic, means foreign workers are necessary

He said that if the government were to look after only Singaporeans, it would not serve the country in the long run

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Singapore—Mr Edwin Tong, the country’s Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, acknowledged the sentiments and attitudes that have been negative toward foreign workers and immigration of late.

This has only been heightened due to the economic fallout because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to The New Paper (TNP), he characterised the issue as “a visceral problem for many and also a political one that we have to solve.”

Some of the Singaporeans he has talked to within the scope of being a Member of Parliament (PAP-Marine Parade GRC) have expressed concerns over their jobs, and he has answered them by saying foreigners are needful as a complement to the local workforce.

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Moreover, foreign workers keep the economy strong.

And while the Government could choose to only look after Singaporeans’ needs, this may not serve the country in the long run.

“We can be very insular and put all our resources into looking after Singaporeans and Singapore companies. But if we do that, what is going to happen to our long-term competitiveness?” TNP quotes him as saying.

Like many officials, he emphasised the need for Singapore to remain competitive, given that the economies some of the other countries in the region, such as Cambodia and Vietnam, are quickly emerging.

The country’s ageing population is also another factor is to consider, along with its implications to a shrinking workforce.

“In 2030, the number of people aged over 65 in Singapore will double, and that is a staggering prospect. It means our effective workforce will decline.”

However, a perceived threat to jobs can mean emotions running hot.

“Any time someone in the family loses a job, Singaporeans look around and even if they can’t verify it scientifically, they see foreign-born Chinese, foreign-born Indians, foreign-born Caucasians here working and they get upset.”

The minister added, “This is a political challenge, to have to mediate the differences between the different groups, at the same time setting a clear eye on what the long-term target must be. Otherwise, we will suffer.”

In his interview with TNP, he quoted Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew’s words regarding immigration.

“In one of his last few National Day Rally speeches, Mr Lee said the one thing that is more worrying than immigration is reverse immigration.

The day might come when our workforce, our business environment, are too weak to attract new innovation and new multinational corporations and it would be more lucrative for young people to migrate.

That is going to be the start of a decline for us. We must always bear this in mind when we look at our immigration policies.”

—/TISG

Read also: Can Singapore afford to reduce the number of its foreign workers?

Can Singapore afford to reduce the number of its foreign workers?

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