The Government is acting on the concerns of professional, managerial, executive and technical (PMET) employees who have been bearing the brunt of competition from foreigners in the workplace.
"I feel their frustration and stress," said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say at the People's Action Party (PAP) lunchtime rally yesterday.
But he noted that efforts to moderate the inflow of foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) have paid off. The annual increase of Employment Pass and S-Pass holders - referring to foreign professionals and foreign mid-level skilled staff respectively - has fallen by 70 per cent since measures were announced in Budget 2010. Mr Lim also emphasised the Government's commitment to get companies to develop a strong "Singaporean core" of PMEs in the workforce.
Outlining what he called "very important immediate priorities", he said the Government was looking closely at where concentrations of foreign PMEs were found here - by geographical location, company, industry and even department.
Mr Lim did not give specific examples, but there have been complaints in the past of some banks, or some firms' IT departments, having a high concentration of foreigners. Although these foreigners were making good contributions to the economy, he said, it was undesirable for them to be concentrated in certain locations, industries or specific departments in organisations.
NURTURING SME GROWTH
For our SMEs to grow, they need a strong government, one that is not based on populism but based on sound policies, one that has long-term vision, one that can put policies into practice.
PAP NEWCOMER CHEE HONG TAT
He said the Government will continue to scrutinise companies that are "double-weak" - those that do not have a strong core of Singaporean employees and do not do enough to nurture Singaporean PMEs.
Another priority is to speed up the transfer of knowledge and expertise from foreign PMEs to Singaporeans so that local workers will be able to drive the economy in future. There needs to be more leadership development for Singaporean employees too, and this is where the SkillsFuture initiative can help to nurture promising Singaporeans to become future business leaders.
Against the backdrop of a more difficult global environment, he said, Singapore experienced four downturns in six years from 1997 to 2003, and another during the global financial crisis in 2008.
"Maybe the next one is already on its way here," he said.
Still, Singapore is doing much better than most other countries, with low youth unemployment and rising median wages for those in PMET jobs. In nominal terms, he said, the median wage of this group rose by more than 35 per cent in the last five years, and after offsetting inflation, increased 20 per cent.
He said measures to tighten the inflow of foreign workers have helped to keep the ratio of local workers to foreigners steady at 2:1.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and jobs also featured in the speech by PAP newcomer Chee Hong Tat, a candidate for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
"For our SMEs to grow, they need a strong government, one that is not based on populism but based on sound policies, one that has long- term vision, one that can put policies into practice," said Mr Chee, the former second permanent secretary at the Trade and Industry Ministry.
He criticised the Workers' Party's proposal to freeze the intake of foreign workers, saying it would further "squeeze" SMEs. He also questioned the opposition's sudden interest in helping small businesses.
"Only during election time (do they) suddenly make noise, suddenly come out, pretend that they are doing something to help our SMEs," he said.