Parliament: MPs offer ideas on how firms can adapt to changes

An automated storage and retrieval system at the NTUC FairPrice Hub warehouse in Benoi. Several MPs yesterday called for company owners to rethink how business is done beyond just adopting technology and automation. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO
An automated storage and retrieval system at the NTUC FairPrice Hub warehouse in Benoi. Several MPs yesterday called for company owners to rethink how business is done beyond just adopting technology and automation.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Policymakers would be better off joining forces with government agencies, unions and business leaders to solve problems instead of relying so much on legislation, Nominated MP Douglas Foo said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Foo warned that an over-reliance on the law-making process - evident in recent calls for rules on wages, elderly care and flexible work arrangements - may not be the best way forward.

"I would like to urge this House to better support the efforts of tripartite collaboration and the Manpower Ministry's efforts to promote a strong culture of shared responsibility, rather than to adopt a legalistic and prescriptive approach," he said.

Mr Foo, who is president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, said the move to tighten the foreign worker quota for the service industry in 2020 and 2021 was the main concern out of all the Budget measures.

He warned MPs that it could drive firms out from Singapore or out of business altogether.

Mr Foo said the service industry is facing human resource constraints and is pressured by higher administrative and labour costs due to legislation amid global uncertainties and technological disruptions.

While bosses understand the policy reasons behind the Government's cuts to the quota and note its effect will be cushioned over two years, he said: "The fears and the difficulties for businesses have already begun."

Mr Douglas Foo warned that an over-reliance on the law-making process - evident in recent calls for rules on wages, elderly care and flexible work arrangements - may not be the best way forward.

Other MPs called for company owners to rethink how business is done beyond just adopting technology and automation.

Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) said that unlike in construction and manufacturing, the service sector has not benefited in the same way from automation and digitalisation efforts.

Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) warned that another challenge for the service sector is the risk arising from the use of technology, as it can reduce the human touch, personal service and customer experience.

 
 
 

But if companies in the service sector do not learn to rely less on foreign manpower, they will suffer when the sources of this labour pool dry up, added Ms Tan.

She acknowledged it is difficult but noted that doing more of the same is not the way to go: "It's also not about just innovating and applying technology and automation. It requires rethinking of our business and how work is done."

She cited coffee kiosk Kopi Ong, which worked with a solutions provider to introduce a system that allows people to order customised coffee or tea via a messaging app and pick the drinks up when they are ready.

"It's not just about technology; it's not just about the way we do business; it's not just about people and skills; it's all of them," she said.

"Therefore, the support that's in place needs to do that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'MPs offer ideas on how firms can adapt to changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe