4 February 2013
ASME urges Govt to examine impact of foreign talent inflow
WONG WEI HAN

SINGAPORE — Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are calling on the Government to examine whether there are enough quality jobs for Singaporeans who may have lost job opportunities in the Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMET) sector due to the inflow of foreign talent.

In a statement released yesterday responding to the White Paper on population, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) cited a recent survey which found that the majority of white-collar professionals here would consider going overseas for better opportunities, indicating discontentment among PMETs.

“Is the public outcry (against foreign workers) over the abundance of lower skilled foreign workers, such as construction workers and cleaners, or is the outcry more targeted at foreign talent taking jobs away from Singaporean PMETs and putting greater downward pressure on salaries and job security of older PMETs?” the association asked.

If the unhappiness about foreign manpower lies at the PMET level, then the Government’s moves to tighten foreign worker inflow so far “threaten the survival of a good number of SMEs in Singapore”.

In this case, “the foreign labour quotas in place for lower-skilled workers should be re-examined and perhaps relaxed,” it added.

The White Paper projects that two-thirds of Singaporeans will take up PMET jobs by 2030, while total workforce growth will slow to 1 per cent due to demographic shifts. Meanwhile, the Government is planning to further slow the inflow of foreign manpower.

Referring to the same survey — which was released last week by recruiting firm Ambition, the ASME said that it showed the importance of Government and company policies in attracting and retaining individuals.

“We, therefore, call upon the Government to provide SMEs with more incentives to develop and improve their human resource systems and processes,” it added.

“Due to their size and resource constraints, many SMEs face difficulties in managing human resource. To attract and keep talent, SMEs need more resources to address employees’ problems and to provide better work-life balance, for instance,” ASME President Chan Chong Beng said. “Without such ability, companies will likely see high employee turnover rate, which makes them less willing to send staff for training. As a result, we see a vicious circle, where productivity improvement remains a challenge.”

The association also felt that the White Paper’s projection of 3 per cent productivity growth this decade and 2 per cent in the next was “overly optimistic”.Noting that companies continue to grapple with shrinking margins and resources, it said that a reckless drive for higher productivity in this context may lead to higher costs and even inflation.

"If these productivity gains do not materialise, the Government must be prepared to relax its tight control over the workforce to prevent the economy from being adversely affected,” the ASME said.

“A buffer in manpower supply is critical to enable both the economy and local SMEs to better respond to rapid and multifaceted changes in external and internal economic conditions.”

The association also recommended that a National Jobs Index be created to assign a score to various jobs according to different levels of acceptability by Singaporeans, and degrees of importance to the national agenda. For example, jobs Singaporeans shun but are necessary or important to Singapore, such as construction work, will be rated higher. The higher indexed jobs should be assigned a lower levy and given a higher quota and vice versa. Such an index would “facilitate a statistical and objective gauge” of whether Singapore meets its foreign manpower policy objectives, the ASME said.

- Source: TODAY