Thursday, 4 June 2015

No U-turn on tight foreign worker policy: Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say

But some other manpower policies will be reviewed
By Toh Yong Chuan Manpower Correspondent And Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 3 Jun 2015

COMPANIES looking for relief from the tight foreign worker policy, now that a new minister is in charge, will be disappointed.

There will be no U-turn on the tight lid on foreign worker numbers in Singapore, said newly minted Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

But he did promise to review some of the other manpower policies in place, such as the national jobs bank, because policies are "never static", he added.

Speaking to the media for the first time since he moved from the labour unions to be Manpower Minister, Mr Lim set out four broad areas in his new role.

These are: to boost competitiveness, keep the workforce lean, nurture a core group of Singaporean workers, and use the foreign workforce as a complement to the local workforce.

These strategies will help businesses to grow and workers to pursue their careers, while achieving "quality growth" for Singapore, he said.

Mr Lim, who turns 62 in July next year, stepped down as National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general last month as part of a self-imposed leadership renewal plan, where union leaders voluntarily retire at age 62 to make way for new blood.

He had spent 13 years at NTUC, with eight years at the helm.

And although it has been just about a month since he moved, Mr Lim has hit the ground running and spent an "active and fruitful month" meeting industry associations like the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several foreign business chambers.

Mr Lim acknowledged that firms face growing uncertainty over the business environment. "Some wonder whether their sectors are still important and how they can attract Singaporean workers," he said.

But it is "not viable" for firms to keep asking for more foreign workers, and they should instead work with unions and the Government to boost productivity, he said.

He added that the lid on foreign worker numbers will have to stay because it is neither sustainable nor desirable if the proportion of foreign workers rises.

"(Otherwise), one day, Singaporeans will wake up to find ourselves as a minority in our Singapore workforce," said Mr Lim.

But he acknowledged that the Government can do more to explain its foreign worker policies to firms. "There is a greater need for us to explain to the business community why there is no easy way out of this present tight labour market," he said.

Turning to other policy areas, Mr Lim said policies, such as the Fair Consideration Framework, are under review to strengthen employment support for local professionals, managers and executives.

The details of the review will be made known in about a month's time, he said.

The former labour chief said that he has had "no personality crisis" in moving from his role as union chief to labour policymaker because of the strong three-way partnership between the Government, unions and employers.

"To me, it's a seamless transition. Why? Because we've always been striving for this win-win outcome," he said.

For smaller firms, the restructuring message has sunk in, said Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee.

"SMEs are not really investing in expansion," he said, adding: "They are already restructuring in response to the new (foreign) labour ratios."

Earlier today, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say sat down with the media to reflect on his first month with the Ministry....
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Four manpower priorities for Singapore: Lim Swee Say
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2015

After spending his first month on the job meeting employer groups, business chambers and trade associations, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said on Tuesday that he has been able to get their agreement to work towards four priority outcomes.

These are: becoming more manpower lean, building a strong Singaporean core, ensuring the foreign workforce is of good quality and maintaining Singapore's competitiveness.

Speaking to the media for the first time since he moved from the labour unions to be Manpower Minister, Mr Lim said that this will help to ensure that manpower constraints do not become the limiting factor for Singapore's economic growth.

"I think at the back of the mind is that given the constraints (businesses) face with manpower, how are they going to be able to respond to external competition...I requested they work together to think and look beyond the considerations of today," he said at the Manpower Ministry headquarters. He took up his current post on May 4.

Action must take place at the industry and sub-industry levels, he added. "We don't have to wait until everybody agrees to start. All it takes is three companies, five companies, seven companies that are prepared to take the lead."

Mr Lim also said that he has been explaining to business leaders who have asked whether they will be able to employ more foreign workers that the ministry cannot afford to adopt a more liberal policy.

"If we continue to do so, the ratio of local workers versus foreign manpower will continue to decline...One day Singaporeans will wake up to find ourselves as a minority in our Singapore workforce, and obviously that's not sustainable, that's not desirable," he said.

Other areas such as the national jobs bank will be reviewed, and more details are expected in around a month's time, he said.

Continuing his push for a three-way partnership between unions, employers and the government, Mr Lim, who was labour chief for eight years, said that his actions would show his commitment to finding solutions that benefit all three - encouraging good business, good careers and good economic growth.

Productivity improvements, not manpower rises, should fuel growth: Minister
By Valerie Koh, TODAY, 3 Jun 2015

Despite the dire productivity levels, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said yesterday that the Republic’s economy must continue to overhaul itself so that growth is fuelled largely by productivity improvements instead of manpower growth.

He added that productivity growth has to account for two-thirds of economic expansion — traditionally, this made up about a quarter, while manpower growth accounted for the rest.

“As we slow (down) manpower growth, we should not let it become the limiting factor of our economic growth. So we should focus on upping productivity,” Mr Lim said.

“For the longer-term sustainability, we must strive for this outcome of a strong Singaporean core and we must try to make smarter use of the foreign workforce in Singapore.”

While this would mean slower economic growth, Mr Lim reiterated that it would be of “better quality”.

Latest economic data released last week by the Ministry of Trade and Industry showed that labour productivity dipped 0.6 per cent in the first three months of this year — the fourth straight quarter of decline, prompting some economists to raise doubts over whether the Republic can attain the productivity levels required for sustainable growth.

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