Singapore's manpower policies reviewed regularly in response to changes, says Ong Ye Kung

MOM and successive manpower ministers have been reviewing policies "all the while", said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
MOM and successive manpower ministers have been reviewing policies "all the while", said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Manpower policies in Singapore are never static and are constantly under review, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, rebutting comments that changes to them were "too little and too late".

Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai had made these comments in Parliament on Tuesday (July 6).

He made his case by citing how the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM’s) Fair Consideration Framework was only introduced in 2014, years after Singapore started its foreign talent policy. He also cited how Employment Pass salary thresholds were not raised since 2017, until last year.

"If you look at the way MOM has administered and regulated the flow of foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians into Singapore, you find that (in) the policies, over time, there's a bit of tightening... But generally, it seems to be too little and too late," said Mr Leong.

In response, Mr Ong said that MOM and successive manpower ministers have been reviewing policies "all the while" and that they are never static.

These policies worked for a period of time, but when countries such as China and India grew, Singapore had a different influx of workers, which meant that it had to adjust its position and review the manpower policies here.

This process of relooking policies will continue, and Mr Ong stressed that Parliament will keep on debating such changes by weighing their pros and cons.

"You can't say because we implement something new now to respond to the situation, therefore, we have failed. 'Why didn't you do it five years ago' - it doesn't work like that. That's not policymaking. That's not how this House works," he said.

"Then every Bill that's tabled in this House is: 'You have failed, you should have tabled this Bill five years ago'. It doesn't make sense."

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng also responded to this line of questioning by Mr Leong by noting that Singapore has evolved in terms of what it focuses on industrially, which would thus mean that policies have to change as well.

He said that in the 1970s, the country made a conscious effort to invest in heavy industry, and in the 1980s it went into electronics.

Singapore then focused its efforts on services and biopharma in the 2000s, and it is now working on industries such as technology, infocommunications and finance.

"Now, at every 10 to 15 years, we've seen fairly dramatic transformation. I think it's inconceivable that you would expect that policies that you would enact do not get refined, do not get tweaked, and do not get adjusted over time," said Dr Tan.

In his list of questions that followed ministerial statements on Singapore's free trade agreements by Mr Ong and Dr Tan on Tuesday, Mr Leong also asked why were locals still getting displaced in their jobs by foreigners, even though it has been some time since Singapore's foreign talent policy began.

Said Mr Leong: "It has been 20 years since we started the foreign talent policy. Within 20 years, we still haven't got our act together in training our people?"

Change is a constant, and Singapore will continually face disruption as well as transformation, said Dr Tan, who added that the future is not always so clear.

"I think if we all had a crystal ball 20, 30 years ago and we could gaze so sort of clearly into the future itself… I think all the necessary investments made would have been perfect and spot on. But I guess, perhaps, I think hindsight, like what they always say, is perfect," he said.