Friday 17 February 2012

Slowdown in growth of S Pass holders: DPM Tharman

Fastest growth in higher tier - in the number of professionals
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2012

WHILE the number of foreign workers in each of the three work pass categories went up last year, the pool of S Pass holders rose at a slower rate than the previous year, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday.

The fastest growth was in the number of employment pass (EP) holders - professionals who hold the highest tier of foreign work passes.

Their numbers climbed up 23.9 per cent from 142,000 in December 2010 to 176,000 in December last year.

But the proportional increase is about the same as the 23.5 per cent registered in 2010 when the number of EP holders rose from 115,000 in 2009 to 142,000.

In contrast, the rate of increase of S Pass holders - mid-tier skilled workers - has slowed from the previous year.

Their numbers rose 15.3 per cent, from 98,000 in 2010 to 113,000 in December last year.

But in 2010, it rose by 19.5 per cent, from 82,000 in 2009 to 98,000.

The pool of work permit holders, excluding foreign maids, expanded at the slowest rate, at 4.8 per cent. There were 702,000 such workers last year compared to 670,000 in 2010.

Mr Tharman, who is also Manpower and Finance Minister, gave these figures in a written reply to Mr Yaw Shin Leong (Hougang).

Mr Yaw had asked for a monthly breakdown of the number of work permits, S Passes and employment passes issued since measures to tighten the foreign workforce were introduced in July 2010.

Mr Tharman said the new measures are still being phased in.

For instance, the qualifying salaries for workers in the top and middle tiers were raised recently - at the start of the year for EP holders and in July last year for S Pass holders.

Foreign worker levies have been increasing in gradual steps since July 2010 and will continue to do so up to July 2013, said Mr Tharman.

'The impact of these measures will hence not be seen instantly,' he said.

But the effects should be seen over the next few years, he added. These would also have to be assessed in the context of the state of the economy, the demand for labour and the availability of local workers, he said.

Mr Tharman offered further snapshots of the foreign workforce in separate written replies to Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam and Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Preliminary figures show the total foreign workforce of 1,197,000 made up 37.1 per cent of workers here as of last December, he told Mrs Chiam. The proportion was 35.9 per cent in 2010.

In his reply to Ms Lim, he said Singaporeans form about half of the top 1,000 individual income earners. Of the rest, 27 per cent are permanent residents and 23 per cent, foreigners.

He pledged to monitor the situation and further calibrate foreign manpower access in the future, if necessary.

While the proportion of foreign workers here may fluctuate above or below the prescribed one-third level from time to time, 'we should aim to avoid a secular increase in our dependence on foreign labour over the long term', he said in his reply to Mr Yaw.

In another written reply to Mr Yaw about training and employment opportunities of older degree holders, Mr Tharman noted that both retrenchment and unemployment of these degree holders remain low.

This, despite Manpower Ministry surveys indicating that workers aged 50 and older are less likely than younger ones to find a job within six months of being laid off.

He also pointed to existing training programmes for these people and added that graduates, whether young or old, need to refresh their knowledge and skills regularly.

There is also the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) which uses 'moral suasion' to get companies to stop discrimination.

'Discrimination of any kind can be difficult to prove definitively and it is critical to bring about a more fundamental mindset change,' he said.

But nearly all employers approached by Tafep have accepted its advice to change such practices, he added.

'MOM also stands prepared to intervene in more serious cases of alleged discrimination,' he said.

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