Ratio of Singaporeans, foreign workers can be adjusted to help businesses: Asme

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) executive committee member Debbie Fordyce speaking to a foreign worker at a restaurant in December 2016.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) executive committee member Debbie Fordyce speaking to a foreign worker at a restaurant in December 2016. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - The ratio of Singaporeans to foreign workers can be adjusted to help businesses address manpower and cost issues without hurting the country's push for improved productivity and upskilling.

This view came front and centre at a post budget panel discussion organised by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) on Tuesday (March 14).

Many questions at the event centred on foreign manpower regulations, with some SME participants questioning the need for foreign worker levies in industries that few Singaporeans wish to work in. Others said the this year's budget does not do enough to help SMEs alleviate short term pains.

In response, ASME president Kurt Wee suggested to Ms Sim Ann, the Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth & Trade and Industry, that the Government can adjust the current policy ratio of around one-third foreigners and two-thirds locals.

Mr Wee noted that more flexibility on this front should not hurt Singapore's productivity as the Government continues to closely manage the inflow and quality of foreign workers.

A significant number of participants raised their hands in support of the suggestion when Ms Sim polled for audience opinions.

Ms Sim said the issues on this front are something that the Government constantly examines.

She stressed that the Government is not oblivious of the business sector's need, but the greater population may object to the call for more foreign workers due to concerns of strained infrastructure.

Nonetheless there should be a more active discussion on this topic between both camps, Ms Sim added.