The Straits Times
Published on Feb 22, 2013

Tighten policy on employment passes


IN 2010, the Economic Strategies Committee recommended that Singapore avoid increasing its dependence on foreign workers over the long term beyond the level then, which was one-third of the workforce.

The Government accepted the recommendations and committed in the 2010 Budget speech to moderate the growth of the foreign workforce and avoid a continuous increase in its proportion to the total workforce ("...And our approach"; Feb 23, 2010).

The Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Comprehensive Labour Force Survey, however, found that the non-resident labour force has been rising steadily over recent years to a high of 37 per cent of the total labour force last year.

Is the Government still committed to limiting the foreign workforce to one-third of the total workforce? In the Population White Paper, what proportion of the workforce is projected to be made up of foreigners in 2030?

In the White Paper, the Government projected that two-thirds of Singaporeans would be in professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) jobs in 2030, compared with half today. It noted that foreign workers would complement the Singaporean core by taking up lower-skilled jobs as Singaporeans upgrade to higher-skilled roles. Implicit in this should be a similar reduction in our dependence on foreigners in PMET jobs as Singaporeans take up these roles.

However, according to MOM's data, the number of foreigners on S-Passes and Employment Passes (EPs) more than doubled from 143,700 in 2007 to 316,200 last year.

Despite this, MOM maintains a very liberal policy for EPs. According to its website, EPs are not subject to any quotas as they are exempted from the calculation of foreign worker quotas.

This means the real foreign worker dependency can actually be higher than the quotas. Taken to the extreme, a company can theoretically have a workforce comprised entirely of foreigners on EPs and not a single Singaporean. This is clearly not a situation that should be encouraged.

The Government should demonstrate its commitment to build a high-quality Singaporean core by correcting this.

I propose that the S-Pass dependency ceiling be extended to EPs, such that only 20 per cent of a company's workforce can be made up of S-Pass and EP holders. I hope the Government considers this in its upcoming Budget.

Chua Cheang