Change consumption pattern to save manpower

Office workers during lunch time at a pedestrian crossing along Church Street at Raffles Place on June 16, 2014.
Office workers during lunch time at a pedestrian crossing along Church Street at Raffles Place on June 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

In his commentary on Tuesday ("Four ways to raise productivity"), Professor Ivan Png suggested that if we change our expected or desired outcomes, we could save thousands of labour hours, and, at the same time, raise our productivity and become less dependent on foreign workers.

Letting our public gardens grow wild rather than using too much landscaping, and cutting down on excessive public lighting are examples he gave.

We could come up with many ideas to save labour and reduce foreign worker numbers if we look hard into our consumption patterns.

Our over-reliance on domestic helpers, private tutors and gardeners, and frequent eating out at restaurants are good examples to start with.

These are way above the demands in most other affluent societies.

Also, are we overly indulging in renovating and decorating our homes, compared with the Japanese, Koreans, Americans or Europeans?

Home renovation requires a lot of labour hours.

We have been engaging in these very labour-intensive consumptions over the years as our per capita income increased.

The Government had to introduce strict foreign worker quotas and impose high foreign worker levies to prevent foreign worker numbers from growing too fast.

Singapore is well known for its cleanliness, greenery, and high standards of safety and hygiene.

We want to uphold these qualities.

However, we have to look for ways to constantly improve productivity.

We also set very demanding standards in big events that we organise.

The Singapore Grand Prix and the National Day Parade, for example, require the investment of many man-hours.

An important question we need to ask ourselves is: Are we willing to relax standards and lower our expectations on outcomes, and even our standard of living sometimes, in order to save manpower and improve productivity?

Prof Png's ideas to save manpower are not going to work as long as we remain fussy, pedantic and kiasu.

We need to change our attitude in this respect, otherwise the number of foreign workers that we require will keep increasing.

Albert Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Change consumption pattern to save manpower'. Print Edition | Subscribe