Coronavirus Singapore

Shortfall of 130,000 workers if S'pore had shut borders

Firms, families would have been badly hit if they had been denied entry after circuit breaker: MOM

Singapore would have been hit hard by a shortfall of at least 100,000 workers and 30,000 domestic workers if migrant workers had not been allowed to enter after the circuit breaker period last year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

This is about one-tenth of the total foreign workforce in Singapore. There were 984,100 migrant workers and 247,400 domestic workers employed here as at last December.

MOM said the Republic would have had a labour shortage of 70,000 service sector workers, including those in essential services such as healthcare and cleaning, 30,000 construction workers and 30,000 domestic workers if it had closed its borders last year.

The ministry revealed this in response to recent calls by members of the public to shut Singapore's borders entirely to bring down the number of imported cases.

"The impact on businesses and families would have been severe," the ministry said, echoing its previous statements on the issue.

It noted that it has, since May 2, "completely stopped entry of all from South Asia".

"At the same time, businesses have been appealing for more workers to be allowed to enter Singapore to address manpower shortages," it said.

On Monday, key representatives from the construction industry and built environment sector issued a plea to the Government to allow foreign workers to enter Singapore in a safe and controlled manner.

The Construction Industry Joint Committee said the industry supports the Government's efforts to curb a resurgence of Covid-19 as new virus variants emerge here, but warned of an increasing risk of workplace incidents as the current reduced workforce is already working at maximum capacity.

MOM said yesterday that the outflow of migrant workers has exceeded the inflow over the past year, with many workers returning home at the end of their contracts.

As a result of border restrictions to mitigate the risk of imported Covid-19 cases, Singapore has not been able to adequately replace those who have left.

MOM did not say how many migrant workers have arrived here since the circuit breaker last year.

However, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told Parliament last week that there was a net outflow of about 5,600 work permit and S Pass holders from the construction, marine, process and service sectors each month from March last year to last month.

This adds up to a net outflow in this period of more than 72,000 workers from these sectors.

From November, entry approval was granted to an average of 5,100 workers per month to alleviate the manpower shortage, but Dr Tan said this inflow could not be sustained due to the dynamic and fluid Covid-19 situation in the workers' home countries.

MOM said that while it makes sense to try to retain existing workers, which businesses are already doing by offering higher retention bonuses and facilitating transfers, many workers are understandably worried about their families at home.

"Border restrictions will impact Singaporeans' daily lives and this will be felt more keenly in the coming weeks and months," the ministry said in its statement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2021, with the headline Shortfall of 130,000 workers if S'pore had shut borders. Subscribe