Scope for 'selective' flexibility in foreign manpower policy: Lim Swee Say

Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say speaking at the Committee of Supply debate on March 5, 2018.
Minister for Manpower Lim Swee Say speaking at the Committee of Supply debate on March 5, 2018.PHOTO: GOV.SG/YOUTUBE

SINGAPORE - Even amid tightening criteria for hiring foreign manpower, there is scope for economic agencies to exercise some flexibility when it comes to allowing companies to bring in the talent they need, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.

Some companies which want to hire foreign workers whose salaries fall below the minimum required for an Employment Pass have been granted leeway.

But this flexibility applies only to companies which give fair consideration to local workers, and want to hire talent with skills that are in demand globally, but lacking in Singapore.

This is in line with ongoing efforts to develop local capabilities and transform the Singapore economy, said the minister, who was speaking at a dialogue session organised by the Singapore National Employers' Federation (SNEF) following the post-Budget debate in Parliament .

Mr Lim was responding to concerns raised by companies about Singapore's talent shortage, especially in fast-growing tech sectors such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data analytics. Companies have said that this manpower shortage is holding back growth, especially amid efforts to go digital and transform.

Mr Lim reiterated that there will be no U-turn on Singapore's foreign manpower policy. The aim is to make the Singapore economy more manpower-lean and make sure it is not over-reliant on foreign manpower, he added.

Acknowledging that it will take time to build up a pool of local talent with the right skills, the minister sought to assure employers that Singapore's door remains open to foreign professionals with the skills needed for businesses to upgrade and transform.

But the criteria for bringing in these workers - for instance, those on Employment Passes - have been made more stringent to encourage companies to attract and retain better workers, he added.

He also responded to concerns that companies' manpower woes will weigh on their transformation efforts.

Mr Lim said that local companies should work to build up capabilities for the long term, even as they transform now to take advantage of digital opportunities. "I believe we can do both together - run fast in the short term and build up local capabilities for the long term," he added.

To help companies with this, the government has rolled out the Capability Transfer Programme, which will support companies in bringing in foreign specialists to transfer skills to the local workforce.

This approach is "both pro-business and pro-worker", said Mr Lim.

If businesses cannot transform and grow, the economy will hollow out and workers will suffer. "Therefore, we cannot be pro-worker without being pro-business." But these policies can only succeed if businesses are also pro-worker, said Mr Lim, adding that economic growth cannot be achieved at the expense of local employment growth.