Singapore can't exclude foreign workers: Minister

Tags: News
Singapore cannot shut its doors on foreign workers, who are a mainstay of the country's labour force, though it is assuring locals of first priority in employment, a minister has said.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said balancing the ratio between foreign and local workers was a "tricky issue" and the government cannot shut its doors to foreigners.

"If we swing too far the other way...Some of these companies might find it better off to operate somewhere else," Tan was quoted by 'The Straits Times' as saying.

He pointed out that Singaporeans would lose jobs if the companies decide to go elsewhere.

The government has been addressing issues related to increasing number of foreign workers in recent years, he said.

It has received complaints from local workers about being discriminated by companies favouring foreigners.

At the same time, Singapore-based companies, especially the small and medium enterprises, have reported shortage of workers as Singaporeans shun some of the tedious jobs.

Speaking to residents at a housing estate yesterday, he assured that the Fair Consideration Framework, which comes into effect from August, would help local professionals, managers and executives in employment.

The Framework mandates that companies with more than 25 employees would have to advertise professional jobs with less than SGD 12,000 a month salary on state-run job bank to prove they had tried hiring Singaporeans first before they would be allowed to hire foreigners.

Leong Weng Kuan, an engineering company head, called on the government to relax work permit requirement for hiring foreign workers.

Tan pointed out that the increase in the number of foreign workers on work permit has slowed down and the government would continue to tighten the inflow of work permit holders, a group that has the greatest bearing on foreign workers in Singapore, even though they were filling jobs that locals shun.

Work permit is issued to non-professional or non-managerial position holder who usually works in the low end jobs, such as the construction sector and cleaning services.

The number of work permit holders has increased to 970,600 last year from 757,100 in 2007. Work permit holders account for seven in 10 of the nearly 1.3 million foreigners working in the city state of over 5 million people.

Singapore has no natural resources but thrives on businesses supporting global commerce, trade, banking and finance among others.

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