Relook foreign worker policy for F&B

I read with dismay that the Hock Lam Beef chain is set to close, citing manpower constraints facing the food and beverage (F&B) sector (108-year-old beef noodle chain to close down, May 5).

These appear to be due to the Government's tightened foreign worker policy, in reaction to the electoral backlash against foreign workers in the 2011 General Election.

But the underlying reasons for this sentiment were structural rather than xenophobic. The population felt that there had been an under-investment in key infrastructure such as hospitals and public transportation, which were operating at a service level deemed unacceptable. This was accentuated by the increasing population in Singapore.

There was also nationalistic sentiment resonating around the perceived lack of citizen privileges vis-a-vis foreigners.

Many of these structural issues have been addressed in the ensuing years, with large investments made in health and transport infrastructure. Citizenship privileges have also been progressively addressed.

It is against this backdrop that I urge the Government to review the foreign manpower policy, especially for the F&B sector. There is no strong evidence of rising local unemployment at the job levels offered by the F&B industry, and the chronic shortage reflects the lack of local manpower to fill many of the jobs available.

It is time to recognise that manpower, not technology, is required to preserve our culinary heritage, and that we should not wrongly belabour under the ghost of the 2011 General Election.

Ng Wee Tong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2019, with the headline 'Relook foreign worker policy for F&B'. Print Edition | Subscribe