Manpower issues not adequately tackled in Budget, say bosses

A straw poll of about 100 company chiefs found that a significant number of them believed manpower constraints could have been better addressed in this year's Budget.

The poll was conducted by KPMG as part of a post-Budget panel discussion held by the professional services firm yesterday.

About 49 per cent of chief executives, chief financial officers and tax directors of local and multinational firms present felt the Budget could have given more attention to manpower issues.

Those attending were asked to nominate one of four possible responses to the question: "Which area do you think the Budget did not address sufficiently?"

The next most popular response was "rental costs", with 24 per cent, followed by 15 per cent who felt more could have been done to support growth.

The fourth option, on more certainty and simplicity in tax and regulations, drew 12 per cent.

"We've been saying on behalf of our members that we need a much more sectoral approach, and a recognition that, like it or not, there are a lot of jobs that Singaporeans don't want to do," said panellist Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce.

He said he hopes the SkillsFuture initiative - unveiled in the Budget to upgrade skills of working adults - will take a targeted approach by identifying the specific skills required by each sector, and supporting their development.

The panel also discussed the difficulties some firms faced in getting work permits approved or renewed.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said the Budget introduced no measures to "manage or reduce" business costs for firms, though there were some measures that deferred costs.

The Budget deferred foreign worker levy hikes due in July this year for one year; manufacturers got a two-year deferral.

And while the Central Provident Fund (CPF) salary ceiling is being raised, firms will be given a temporary employment credit over the next three years to tide them over. Firms with older workers who must pay higher CPF contributions will also enjoy a special employment credit.

With no mention in the Budget to address high rental costs, it was not surprising that the concern featured high up on the list.

Mr Thomas Fernandez, chief executive of pest control service PestBusters, said: "This time, the Budget didn't really excite us. The pressing problem is still manpower."

But with the Budget unveiling measures to spur innovation

and encourage firms to head overseas, fewer bosses felt that the measures were lacking on this front.

marilee@sph.com.sg