The Straits Times
Published on Feb 23, 2013

Foreign labour policies shouldn't hurt SMEs


AS AN entrepreneur in Singapore, I have found our foreign labour policies disturbingly misaligned and lacking foresight.

On the one hand, the policies do not curb the influx of highly paid foreigners who compete with Singaporeans for mid- to high-level jobs.

On the other hand, industries requiring physical labour and service staff face strict quotas and many restrictions. These sectors include construction, retail, food and beverage, manufacturing and hospitality.

Singaporeans are not drawn to such jobs regardless of the salaries offered, because of the unattractive work schedules and image attached to these jobs.

But the Ministry of Manpower not only limits foreign workers with very strict quotas, but has also increased the levy so much that many businesses have had to shut down due to a lack of manpower and increased cost of operations.

Simply put, it is nearly impossible for employers in the service and retail industry to hire any Singaporeans for front-line jobs that are below management level.

This will lead to the loss of mom-and-pop eateries, retail shops, hairdressing salons and beauty- and spa-related establishments.

This will, in turn, lead to job losses for many Singaporeans in both front-line and support roles.

This, coupled with rising rentals, spells a bleak outlook for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Government should examine the needs of each sector to determine the foreign labour quota, instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Its preference for "quality" rather than quantity does not tackle our labour shortage or quell discontent on the ground.

My company has been forced to expand overseas, where the talent pool is more abundant. The sad thing is that as we grow overseas with franchises and locally owned operations, all our requests for three- and six-month training visas for our foreign staff have been rejected.

Our Government's stance contrasts sharply with those of other Asian countries, where local businesses are protected and supported.

Wendi Chan (Ms)