Forum: Reduce reliance on foreign workers by changing mindset on menial jobs

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted a blind spot in Singapore's domestic development: our over-dependence on foreign workers as a source of low-cost labour, particularly in key sectors such as construction and landscape maintenance.

The latest travel restriction on those from some South Asian countries will further squeeze manpower in these fields, among others, and may affect Singapore's planning of key future infrastructure development.

This goes against the current of Singapore's exceptionalism and its ability to navigate adroitly without being overly dependent or hamstrung by external factors.

Singapore's moves to achieve self-sufficiency in water supply are a good example.

In the same way, there needs to be a paradigm shift in industries which are traditionally over-represented by foreign workers.

Given Singapore's Smart Nation goal, we should consider how we can harness technology to supplement our needs in areas traditionally dominated by foreign workers. But more crucially, a mindset change in how we understand the meaning and value of work is needed.

Let's eradicate the idea that it would be more profitable and convenient for foreigners to do menial and low-paying jobs.

We need to see work as being fundamentally about seeking the welfare of the community and not just the self, and about fulfilling our personal calling as valued individuals.

Without such a change in thinking, Singaporeans will continue to eschew certain jobs and we will continue to rely on others to do the work that we perceive as inconvenient or lowly paid.

All these changes would require a whole-of-society change in mindset, from what we are taught in our formal education to restructuring our economic focus, including how much we are willing to pay for services rendered.

This is not just a government duty but one that ultimately involves all Singaporeans.

While border closures will hopefully be temporary and global travel will resume, there is a pressing need to consider reducing our reliance on foreign workers.

In their place, we need to build up a Singaporean core who can and is willing to shoulder the responsibilities of nation-building, so that Singapore can continue to remain exceptional.

Benjamin Ho (Dr)