S’poreans split on right balance of foreign workers and local job protection

Younger people are more likely to agree that the right balance has been struck between foreign workers and protecting local jobs, a survey shows. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Singaporeans are divided on whether the nation has struck the right balance in bringing in foreign workers and protecting local jobs, with about 40 per cent agreeing, 44 per cent disagreeing and the rest not knowing enough to answer, an online survey shows.

It also found that younger respondents were more likely to agree that Singapore had found the right balance, but this number slid with age.

The survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents on Forward Singapore topics was commissioned by The Straits Times and conducted by consumer research firm Milieu Insight in September.

The topics included economy and jobs, health and social support, home and living environment, and education and lifelong learning.

NUS College vice-dean of special programmes and sociologist Daniel Goh said younger Singaporeans are more receptive to messaging from the Government on this topic, as they experience the need for openness in the workplace and in schools.

They also get to know more foreigners and understand how much is shared between them, such as the aspiration for good lives for their future families and the global cosmopolitan culture, he added.

In contrast, the older generation faced the toughest competition and displacement in the labour market in the decades of immigration in the 1990s and 2000s, when attention to the protection of local jobs was not as strong as it is today.

“This is something we need to take note of,” he said.

“We often assume people are rational and will respond to logical arguments or self-interests, but we underestimate the power of experience and emotions in shaping lifelong attitudes and views,” he said. “Negative experiences in interactions between foreigners and locals can shape negative attitudes for life.”

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said younger Singaporeans who are increasingly more “future-ready” and experience less or no competition from foreign professionals at the entry level are more likely to agree the right balance has been found. In contrast, older workers are likely concerned about their prospects for re-employment and lacking the skills that younger people and foreign professionals possess.

He added that seniors in lower-level jobs may also be concerned that the availability of foreign workers may render them less competitive should they demand higher wages, though the Progressive Wage Model may mitigate this concern. Yet, younger respondents aged 34 and below were over twice as likely to indicate education and lifelong learning as a pressing concern than middle-aged workers, who picked it least.

Strategic advisory consultancy BowerGroupAsia Singapore managing director Nydia Ngiow noted that even among younger respondents, a sizeable number believe the country has not struck the right balance.

She said this could be a reflection of their insecurities around job prospects resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the return of more foreign workers since Singapore’s reopening in recent months.

“It will be crucial for the Government to continue engaging this segment of the population, especially since this group will play a bigger role in upcoming elections,” she added.

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