Sun, Aug 29, 2010
"We have very good people, but never enough": PM Lee

Singapore's Prime Minister addressed the issue of immigration and foreign workers at length.

Acknowledging that this is a "hot topic", PM Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore needs more foreign workers so that more jobs can be created for Singaporeans.

"We have very good people, but never enough," he said. Hence, there is the need to supplement our local pool of talent by drawing talent from all over the world.

Singapore needs reinforcements to grow its economy and to create more jobs for Singaporeans. Citing Keppel and SembCorp Marine again, he noted that the two companies employ 20,000 people in Singapore, including 5,000 Singaporeans. Without the foreign workers, the Singaporean jobs would not exist, he pointed out.

PM Lee also pointed out that immigrants are necessary to make up for Singapore's population shortfall. Despite the government's efforts to encourage more Singaporean couples to have more children, there were fewer babies in 2009 than there were in the year before.

The Prime Minister also took pains to point out the distinction between foreign workers and immigrants. Foreign workers are transient, and most of them work in factories, banks, hospitals, shipyards and construction projects. Such workers will leave when their jobs are done. Hence, Singapore can accept higher numbers temporarily.

The criterion for immigrants are a lot more stringent, as Singapore is very careful of who it accepts. They must not only be economic contributors but must integrate into Singapore society and strike roots here.

PM Lee emphasised that citizens come first, and pointed out that several public policies were reviewed last year to sharpen the distinction between citizens and non-citizens.

He also pointed out that the government is protecting Singaporean jobs through several ways, including the Foreign Worker Levies which make foreign workers more expensive to hire than Singaporean workers. He said that the levies are going up, and must rise further.

However, PM Lee noted that protectionary measures can only go so far: if Singaporean workers lack the skills or are not competitive, their jobs will still go elsewhere.

For more stories on the National Day Rally speech, click here.

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