The Straits Times
Published on Feb 08, 2013

Adopt nuanced approach to foreign labour


THE Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) is spot-on in its comments on the loss of professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) jobs to foreigners ("Call to relook curbs on foreign labour inflow"; Monday).

The Government adopts a broad-brush approach in dealing with foreign labour and applies the same yardstick when adjusting the inflow of PMETs and low-skilled workers.

In recent months, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has raised the salary criterion for allowing employers to hire foreign PMETs.

In spite of this, I see many young foreigners taking up PMET jobs in sectors such as financial services. Did the employers really try to fill these jobs with Singaporeans first?

The Government should use a calibrated approach to foreign labour as suggested by Asme. It should allow more low-skilled foreign workers, as they take up jobs that Singaporeans shun.

It should be mandatory for companies seeking to hire PMETs to look for Singaporean talent first. Only if they are unsuccessful in their search can they seek MOM approval to hire foreigners.

The MOM, for its part, should carefully examine the employers' claims before allowing them to hire foreigners.

If such a nuanced approach is not followed, Singaporeans have every reason to doubt the White Paper's projection that two-thirds of Singaporeans will be PMETs in 2030.

Of course, this proportion is possible if the PMET population in 2030 consists of a large number of new citizens. But it would still leave out the "core Singaporeans" who bear greater national responsibilities.

Hariharan Gangadharan