I spoke with a group of local SME businessmen recently who shared their woes about the current tight labour force. They told me that the recent measures to tighten control over foreign labour has affected, and threatens to suffocate, their businesses and growth. Running SMEs is already tough and stressful. Now they are having to get jobs done with less manpower, because they have to meet their obligations to customers who do not care whether they have enough workers or not.
I asked why they do not hire more Singaporeans to do the jobs they offer. They told me they try to do so, but the reality is that few Singaporeans want to take up those jobs, even if they raise the pay. Moreover, Singapore is at 2.1% unemployment (i.e., virtually full employment) and they simply cannot find enough locals to fill positions.
I asked if they could raise productivity, e.g., install new machines and processes, so that they can make do with fewer workers. The Minister for Finance in this year’s Budget had announced several measures to help businesses with such improvements. But the businessmen told me that these measures take time, whereas they have immediate labour needs.
Actually, the businessmen understand why the government has to reduce the inflow of foreigners. They also know of comments, through online and mainstream media, arguing how foreigners were stealing local jobs and how taking a bus ride felt like travelling in a foreign country. They are Singaporeans too, and understand such feelings expressed by Singaporeans. But they felt that this was only one side of the story, pushed by a vocal group. Their current plight shows that this is a complex issue, that foreign manpower is not all bad, and is in fact an important complement to our own labour force.
I fully sympathise with the challenges that the businesses face. However, I believe the current moves to constrain foreign labour force growth is the right long term measure, especially so given the limited physical capacity we have. In a way, Singapore has to go into “cold-turkey” after years of allowing huge inflows of foreigners. Politics should be about having the courage to make the best decision at any given point in time, and act on it. But we should also recognise the painful tradeoffs that we are making, and give more help, and time, for SMEs and local businessmen to adjust to the new circumstances.
More comments from the net :
- with due respect. I think ms TPL is threading on very furry issue that us not within her capacity to.
What she said appeased some mass majority but total lack of international tread and analysis.
Influx of foreign workers is a global problem throughout all developing or developed countries, not one exclusively to Singapore. Other countries like Australia can afford to close their door to foreign migrants and workers. Can Singapore?
I hope she’s not playing into popularity politics.
- Personally however much I dislike it, by pulling the brakes it would hurt us more than help.
It pains me to turn left and right to see a foreigner taking up a job another Singaporean can fulfil but it pains the country more if these vacancies whether a local or foreigner takes up the job, cannot be left vacant.
Perhaps this is the “sin” of prosperity whereby more and more born after the 80s no longer embodies the tenacity to take on hardship. Hence the term “strawberry generation”. Imagine when I was in between jobs, I had worked part time as a chicken rice chopper – a decent job. Yet some oppositions supporters scoffed me even though it’s a decent paying job.
I’m afraid not for the influx of foreigners but I’m afraid for the next generation of Singaporeans who seeker only to be served than to serve....