Foreign workers a boon: minister

Foreign workers a boon: minister

 

By LEE U-WEN

 

THE secret of Singapore‘s strong job growth, according to Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen, is not to rely solely on locals to fill the vacancies. Instead, it was the ministry allowing businesses here to readily tap foreign workers to meet their needs that has proven to be the Republic’s key competitive advantage, said Dr Ng in Parliament yesterday.

 

‘If we had relied on our limited manpower supply, growth would be slower and fewer jobs would be created. This is the experience in other countries that tend to close their labour markets,’ he told the House.

 

Some MPs were concerned that the government’s recent moves to relax the rules on hiring foreign workers had dented opportunities for locals. But Dr Ng reassured them this was hardly the case.

 

‘The unemployment rate among local polytechnic diploma-holders has fallen from 5.6 per cent in June 2004 – before the introduction of the ‘S’ pass (for foreign skilled workers) – to 3.4 per cent in June 2007. Last year, we saw a 47 per cent increase in the number of job vacancies requiring at least a diploma qualification,’ said Dr Ng.

 

To further boost productivity, MPs such as Josephine Teo (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) suggested that foreign worker access could be linked to industry upgrading and re-development efforts. Another suggestion was to have employers show that they had put in enough effort to hire locals before being allowed to hire foreigners.

 

Dr Ng disagreed with both ideas. ‘It would be both ineffective and counter-productive to tie foreign worker quotas to specific outcomes. Doing so would restrict the growth of companies, especially in this tight labour market, and in turn reduce job opportunities for locals.’

 

The solution, then, is a three-pronged effort. First, re-create more jobs to boost workers’ value and productivity. Second, get companies to upgrade. Lastly, develop a ‘first-class Continuing Education and Training (CET) system to help our workforce stay ahead’, said Dr Ng. As such, the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund will be topped up to $3 billion. More CET centres, too, will be developed to benefit adult learners, while an Institute for Adult Learning will also be set up to conduct research and develop new training methods.

 

Source: Business Times

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