Workers and companies affected by the ongoing economic restructuring will get more help to cope, but there will be no U-turn on the policy of keeping a lid on foreign worker numbers, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.
This means companies must make the most of middle-aged and older workers by helping them to upgrade their skills, and not practise ageism and discrimination.
Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister and a candidate for Jurong GRC, was speaking to the media at Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre yesterday.
He reiterated that the Government will continue to take a balanced approach towards manpower policy and not tighten the tap too rapidly. "I can think of labour policies which will wipe out businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, en masse, within a year or two.
"But that's a bad strategy, because it will also wipe out jobs."
Instead, "we have to find a balance, we have to be practical, and we have to think of ways to help our businesses upgrade", he said.
"We should push ahead, and keep up the pace of restructuring, and never let businesses think we're doing a U-turn."
The Government will do more to help middle-aged Singaporeans, including professionals, managers and executives, who are often hit hard when they lose their jobs, Mr Tharman said.
But employers have to play their part. "There can be no ageism in Singapore, no discrimination against Singaporeans because they're past 45 - get rid of that. That's how we go forward.
"Employers have to get real, and recognise that we have a permanently tight labour market.
"They have to recognise the value in every middle-aged Singaporean, develop them, take advantage of the government schemes."
This approach is necessary for Singapore to continue creating opportunities and jobs for its citizens, and ultimately raise real incomes, not just for the rich but also for those in the lower- and middle-income groups, he said.
"We need to build opportunities, not just for the people at the top, but opportunities across the board for all Singaporeans. That's at the heart of an inclusive society."
Chia Yan Min