Singapore— Manpower Minister Josephine Teo talked about the new quota for foreign workers as outlined in #SGBudget19 again in Parliament on Tuesday, March 5.
However, during the course of the Ministry of Manpower’s Committee of Supply debate, she also pushed the opposition to make their stand clear on the issue.
Addressing the Workers’ Party (WP) in particular, she noted that many Members of Parliament (MPs) had spoken out about the matter. She called the silence from WP a “notable exception.”
She asked, “I wonder why, given how important this is for workers. I’m really interested to know: Do you support it?”
This prompted a reply from Pritam Singh, the leader of the WP.
He answered, “A similar question, I believe, was asked by Minister of State Zaqy (Mohamad) during the Budget debate and I rose at the end of the debate to say that the Workers’ Party supports the Budget, but subject to our position on the GST (Goods and Services Tax).
Let me be clear about the position on the Dependency Ratio Ceilings once again. I think, as a matter of principle, we support the lowering of the Dependency Ratio Ceiling. We feel that we should reduce our over-reliance on foreign manpower where we can and this is so that we can look to raise and improve the job prospects of Singaporeans.”
During the roll-out of this year’s Budget on February 18, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had said that in 2020, the Dependency Ratio Ceiling for the services sector will be reduced from 40 percent to 38 percent. For 2021, it will be reduced even further to 35 percent.
The Manpower Minister emphasized that the choice to decrease the number of foreign workers had been made with careful consideration. She said, “In the end, we decided we need a stronger push to restructure and be more manpower-lean. This will sustain business growth for our companies, and help to improve job quality for our workers. In the longer term, it will make our labour market more resilient.”
However, Ms Teo also noted that the country will “continue to need foreign manpower in services”, although being overly dependent on foreign workers comes with risks and is ultimately unsustainable.
She also made note of the fact that many of the nations from whence foreign workers originate are also quickly developing, and therefore these workers may possibly choose to stay in their home countries instead of opting to work in Singapore.
Ms Teo added a rhetorical question. If Singapore “as a society accept(s) that many jobs in services are unattractive to locals”, shouldn’t it also “invest effort to uplift some of these jobs, to be more appealing to locals?”
She reported that different businesses have responded to the reduction in the Dependency Ratio Ceiling by already beginning to implement changes in this direction. Some companies have begun to look at where corners in routine work may be cut, such as the taking of stock in retail businesses.
She added that firms may also be able to cut the number of employees in the back end of work, but maintain employees who interact with customers so that customer satisfaction may also be kept high.
One positive thing that may come out of this is that companies may yet raise wages for employees since a smaller number of staff members would be necessary.
In his Budget speech last month, the Finance Minister talked about the need for Government to take decisive actions in order to manage the growth of manpower, urge companies to restructure their processes at work, redesign jobs and upskill or retrain workers.
“Relying on more and more foreign workers is not the long-term solution — other economies are developing, too. Our workforce growth is tapering, and if we do not use this narrow window to double down on our restructuring, our companies will find it even harder in the future.”
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