16 April 2013
No policy U-turn on foreign labour curbs: Tan
Neo Chai Chin

SINGAPORE — The Manpower Ministry is closely watching the construction industry and will work with it to smoothen the impact of restructuring and foreign manpower tightening measures, said its Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

 
He was responding to Mr Kurt Wee, a participant on the Channel NewsAsia programme Ask Minister, who felt that the construction sector is facing a “big problem”.
 
With the manpower crunch, “main contractors think they can throw the problem to the sub-contractors, sub-contractors think they can throw the problem to the specialist contractor”, said Mr Wee, a vice-president at the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME). He added that some construction projects are experiencing delays, with companies running into liquidated damages and “it’s not like our workforce is producing available construction workers”.
 
During the dialogue, Mr Tan signalled that there will be no U-turn on foreign labour tightening in the foreseeable future. “I think I need to be quite definitive here, so that the signal is clear ... for some time, I would say the industry was thinking (the) Government will make a U-turn so, therefore, the changes perhaps did not quite happen. I think people were hoping that if the pressure was high enough, we will make adjustments and so on ... As a result of that, the propensity to change the way we do things was not so significant,” he said. Should affected companies close down, assistance will be provided to them and their workers to find alternatives, Mr Tan added.
 
The participants also asked Mr Tan about the perception among some that it is cheaper to hire a foreigner instead of a local. In a straw poll conducted by Mr Tan, four of the seven participants felt this to be the case.
 
But two businessmen disagreed. Mr Ryan Chioh, Managing Director of FarEastFlora.com, said the company hires a range of workers, including a foreign general worker to clean floors and wash the toilets. The worker is paid about S$1,100 monthly and his levy costs come up to S$550, amounting to a total of nearly S$1,700. The company employs him as no Singaporean wants the job, said Mr Chioh.
 
ASME’s Mr Wee felt that employers hiring workers for lower-end jobs could get more productivity from foreigners, but bosses hiring employees for higher-end jobs may prefer locals who “understand issues and who understand micro-macro perspectives”.
 
Mr Tan said changes have been made to the Employment Pass framework to factor in a foreigner’s age and experience to ensure the playing field is level for locals. These would also be introduced at the S Pass level, he said.
 
Mr Tan said he would like to ensure that good jobs continue to be available to Singaporeans, and that people continue to be treated fairly at workplaces. Wages for lower-income workers would also continue to be a focus for his ministry.
 
Source: Mediacorp TodayOnline