Is the foreign talent squeeze in Singapore expected to continue?
Echoing his predecessor, Singapore’s current Minister of Manpower has stated the government will continue to moderate the number of foreign workers employed in Singapore.
Speaking in Parliament, Lim Swee Say explained the government will maintain the foreign share of its workforce at about one-third.
“Our aim is to moderate the inflow of foreign manpower, at a pace that we can accommodate,” he said.
He explained this will be done to ensure the pace of foreign workforce grows “broadly in tandem with the growth of our local workforce as we move forward”.
The overall annual foreign workforce (FW) growth has moderated from 144,500 in 2007 eight years ago, to 34,000 in 2014.
Lim added this growth rate has slowed from 19% year-on-year (y-o-y) to 3% y-o-y over the eight years.
“This significant slowdown in FW growth occurred in all sectors over the past eight years – from 54,500 (28% y-o-y) to 21,500 (5% y-o-y) in the services sector.
He highlighted that for the construction sector, the growth slowed down from 36,000 (23% y-o-y) to 9,700 (3% y-o-y) in the construction sector.
Likewise, for the manufacturing sector, the slowdown was from 42,000 (18% y-o-y) to a negative growth of 5,400 (-2% y-o-y).
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Lim also shed light on whether compromising on foreign worker levies will benefit Singapore’s workforce.
“Reducing or doing away with levies would not benefit Singaporean rank-and-file workers.
“Employers may prefer to hire cheaper FWs to maximise their quota. The salary of local workers may also be suppressed due to lower cost of hiring FWs. In addition, this could deter investment in manpower-lean technology and solutions.”
The issue of foreign workers has been a highly debated one in the region, especially as changes to foreign employment were made last year.
Countries like Malaysia have admitted of the need to support foreign talent in order to boost growth. At the same time, China has just announced a series of polices in the hope of attracting overseas talent.
Earlier this year, Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying vowed to “unleash the potential of local labour force” through measures such as the extension of the retirement age and more child care services to support working mothers.
He also laid out a pilot scheme for second generation Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents who have emigrated overseas.
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