Thursday, 7 February 2013

WP proposals on foreign labour 'disastrous' for economy: SBF

By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2013

SINGAPORE'S largest business chamber yesterday hit out at the Workers' Party's proposals to have no additional foreign workers till 2020, saying that it would be "disastrous" for the Singapore economy and its competitiveness and "does no one any good".

It would also delay the completion of much needed capacity in the housing, transport and health-care sectors, and hurt local firms most severely, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) said in a statement issued just hours after the WP put forward its plan to Parliament.

"With no growth in foreign workers, the impact on the economy and Singapore's competitiveness would be disastrous. The livelihood and well-being of Singaporeans will be compromised," said the federation, which represents more than 18,000 local and foreign firms in Singapore.

Sectors which have jobs that are unattractive to locals will be severely affected, such as construction firms which need more foreign workers to build new homes and MRT lines, and the health-care sector which needs more foreign workers to help reduce the strains in the polyclinics and hospitals.

It reiterated its stance that both local and foreign workers are needed to keep Singapore competitive and called for a consensus.

Chief operating officer Victor Tay also said firms are already facing difficulties drawing more locals into the workforce. "Companies are already scraping the bottom of the barrel, changing shift hours to suit the 'economically inactive' group comprising of homemakers and grandparents."

The WP proposed yesterday to keep the number of foreign workers constant till 2020, and to grow the resident labour force by 1 per cent a year, by increasing the labour force participation rate and complementing that with productivity gains.

This would result in a smaller population size and lower economic growth rate than that projected in the White Paper on Population.

It is the second time the SBF has raised alarm over the prospects of a slower growing workforce, since the White Paper was released last week.

Meanwhile, president of the 6,500-strong Association of Small and Medium Enterprises Chan Chong Beng called the WP's idea "ridiculous". "The WP should talk to business people, a lot of them already want to close shop because of the shortage of foreign workers," he said.


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