4 February 2013
Call to relook curbs on foreign labour inflow
Aaron Low

SME group asks: Are higher-skilled foreigners taking jobs from S'poreans?

THE body representing small and medium firms here has asked for a closer look at the issue of restricting the inflow of foreign workers in Singapore, in its response to the White Paper on population released last week.

Noting that Singaporeans have been urging the Government to reduce the influx of foreigners here, the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) said the Government has responded by restricting the flow of both low-skilled foreign workers and foreign talent.

But it said that it could be higher-skilled foreign talent who are taking jobs away from Singaporeans and asked if there are enough jobs for Singapore professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

"Is the public outcry over the abundance of lower-skilled foreign workers... or is the outcry more targeted at foreign talent taking jobs away from Singaporean PMETs and putting downward pressure on the salaries and job security of older Singaporeans?" the association asked in a statement.

"The real problem may be the masses of foreign professionals depressing wages across the board for local PMETs."

If this is the case, the association urged the Government to reconsider tightening the flow of lower-skilled foreign workers. If not, SMEs may not be able to "function optimally" and will be forced to downsize or shut down.

The association, which represents 6,500 SMEs, also said that the projected growth of the workforce by 1 per cent to 2 per cent from now to 2020, and 1 per cent thereafter to 2030, in the White Paper may not be enough to support the expansion of infrastructure, such as the building of more homes and MRT rail lines.

It described the Government's projections of productivity gains as "overly optimistic", noting that Singapore achieved only 1.8 per cent productivity growth in the past decade, below the 2 per cent to 3 per cent target set by the White Paper.

The association also called for levies and worker quotas to be differentiated among jobs, depending on the importance of each sector to the economy and how receptive Singaporeans are to the jobs in the sector.

The statement from the association was the latest in a series released by the local business community expressing its views on the White Paper that was released last Tuesday.

SMEs, which account for 99 per cent of all enterprises here and employ 70 per cent of workers, have been particularly outspoken.

Last week, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), which represents 18,000 companies, warned of "devastating consequences" for SMEs should there be further moves to restrict the flow of foreign workers here.

The federation's chief executive Ho Meng Kit said not enough attention has been paid to the risk that productivity cannot rise fast enough to make up for the slowdown in manpower growth.

"If you have very low productivity, how are firms going to reward and raise wages? If you don't raise wages, you are jeopardising median wage increases for the man on the street," he said.

Mr Ho said many small firms are still unprepared for the slower growth of manpower.

"It's like an earthquake that happens in Japan and seven hours later, the tsunami hits Hawaii. It takes a while but it's going to happen," he said.

"We are preparing for the wave. We want to save as many companies as we can, and we hope many will survive."

- Source: The Straits Times