The Straits Times
Published on Nov 17, 2012

White-collar jobs nub of the issue with foreign labour


IT IS clear that Singapore needs foreign workers and can accept more foreigners in the future, but only those with specific mandates ("Some 150,000 more foreigners may be needed by 2030"; Tuesday).

With a greying Singapore and demanding family lives, many households have both parents working. Maids have become a necessity and are no longer a luxury.

Hiring foreigners is for the greater good of Singapore - as well as for foreigners from poorer countries who seek honest employment to better their lot and, by extension, their countries'.

Similar arguments also hold for construction workers or cleaners - jobs Singaporeans are less likely to pursue.

There is nothing wrong with hiring foreigners for such labour sectors.

The problem lies with the white-collar sector, which is the source of controversy and unhappiness among citizens.

While it is natural to expect foreign firms and multinational corporations starting up here to hire their own expatriate staff, the hiring policy must be clear that they should employ non-Singaporeans only if there are no Singaporeans competent enough for the posts.

Given the skill diversity, education and experience of Singaporeans, foreign companies should give priority to the local population, which offers longer-term commitment and, possibly, lower costs.

Citizens feel aggrieved by foreign firm hirings for several reasons. It happens when foreign firms hire clusters of employees from their own countries, or when these firms let go of loyal Singaporean staff at the onset of middle age.

It is therefore imperative for the Government, even as it encourages foreign direct investment and foreign manpower, to ensure citizens do not lose out.

Singapore has clear economic goals, but a clearer manpower policy and guidelines are critical to cement social and economic cohesion and bring us to the next level.

Raymond Koh