Different strategies needed for different segments of foreign workers

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the construction industry has to hasten the pace towards prefabrication and precast design for manufacturing. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Even as the world is buffeted by the rough waves of protectionist sentiments and travel restrictions, Singapore needs to remain an "open and safe harbour" for higher-skilled professionals, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.

With longstanding policies that ensure access to global markets and laws to protect intellectual property, the Republic aims to reel in such scarce global resources as technology start-up founders and entrepreneurs who will create jobs for locals, he added in an interview on Wednesday.

The minister also said Singapore has to step up its efforts to find foreign PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who would best complement local talents so that together, they can compete in the world market.

"Because if they don't complement Singapore, then they might end up competing against Singapore," he added.

Mr Chan noted that many companies are looking for "safe harbours" to deploy their staff.

Likewise, highly skilled professionals are looking for places that will protect their intellectual property and not restrict them from working in the international market, even if the global economy is bifurcating and fragmenting.

As for low-skilled foreign workers, Singapore can rely less on them when people change their habits and keep public spaces cleaner, said Mr Chan.

Similarly, production methods will need to be transformed more quickly to minimise the number of such foreign workers for jobs shunned by Singaporeans, he added.

Citing construction, he said the industry has to hasten the pace towards prefabrication and precast design for manufacturing, design for safety, and using technology.

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But overall, different strategies are required for different segments of the foreign workforce "to optimise our overall numbers", he added.

Mr Chan's comments reference the calls among people for Singapore to consider relying less on migrant workers, who dominate the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in an interview with TV station CNA that the key issue is that Singapore's domestic labour force is insufficient and will decline as the population ages.

Also, a significant proportion of foreign workers here do very difficult jobs which many Singaporeans shun, he said.

Several business groups and trade associations have also warned that shrinking the pool of foreign workers in Singapore could damage the economy, raise costs and hamper Singaporeans' job prospects.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2020, with the headline Different strategies needed for different segments of foreign workers. Subscribe