On the campaign trail

Curbs on foreign workers 'meant to serve S'pore'

Manpower cuts, 6.9m planning parameter both in interest of Singaporeans: Swee Say

Mr Lim Swee Say, who is leading a PAP team to contest in East Coast GRC, on a walkabout in Lucky Heights yesterday.
Mr Lim Swee Say, who is leading a PAP team to contest in East Coast GRC, on a walkabout in Lucky Heights yesterday. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The decision to cut back on foreign manpower and the 6.9 million population planning parameter set out in the Population White Paper are two separate issues, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say yesterday.

"These are meant to serve Singapore in two different ways," he said in response to questions from the media, after visiting landed homes in Lucky Heights yesterday morning.

On Sunday, a Workers' Party (WP) candidate, sociologist Daniel Goh, had asked if the 6.9 million planning parameter was still valid, given that the Government has tightened the inflow of foreign workers.

Mr Lim stressed that the 6.9 million population number was not a target but more a tool to help plan long term for infrastructure, such as housing and public transportation. "In fact, we don't want what happened in 2011 to be repeated in the future," he said. "Remember, as a result, we had to rush our HDB construction and so on."

Cutting back on foreign worker numbers, meanwhile, is meant to ensure that the growth of foreign manpower does not outpace that of the local workforce.

Another objective, Mr Lim said, is to "strengthen the Singapore core" in every major sector of the economy.

"Therefore, I would say that the two are not in contradiction. In fact, both are trying to serve the interest of Singaporeans," Mr Lim added.

Mr Lim also disagreed with the WP's idea of freezing the growth of foreign manpower, a point the party made in Parliament previously. And in its latest manifesto, the WP proposed keeping foreign workforce numbers constant if a 1 per cent resident workforce growth target is achieved.

Going by that proposal, Mr Lim said, there would have been "zero growth" in foreign manpower in Singapore in the last three years.

That will hurt local small and medium-sized enterprises, which account for 70 per cent of the workforce here.

Mr Lim is leading a four-member People's Action Party (PAP) team that includes Senior Minister of State Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State Mohamad Maliki Osman and two-term MP Jessica Tan, to contest in East Coast GRC against a WP team that Dr Goh is part of.

Mr Lim told reporters that his team will focus on national issues at its second rally.

East Coast GRC, which the PAP team won with a 54.8 per cent vote share in the 2011 General Election, is expected to be hotly contested again this year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline Curbs on foreign workers 'meant to serve S'pore'. Subscribe