Ensure economic growth is in tandem with availability of labour

Ensure economic growth is in tandem with availability of labour

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was spot-on in saying that our small country cannot ease up on its curbs on foreign worker inflow, as that would put a strain on our limited infrastructure in critical areas such as housing, transport, health care and security ("S'pore can't ease up on foreign worker limits, says PM Lee"; last Thursday).

However, this message must permeate all the planning and development policies across ministries and government agencies, to ensure congruency with the desired goal - to reduce dependency on foreign manpower.

Currently, it seems that government bodies are still set on pursuing growth and expansion, despite the limits on foreign manpower and the acute shortage of local talent, while businesses are expected to face these realities.

Given that organisations have to continually review their business models and processes to stay relevant in this high-tech era, government bodies should work with other agencies and tripartite partners to ensure that economic growth is achieved in tandem with the availability of talent, both local and foreign.

We cannot expect to build more homes, hospitals, hotels, shopping malls and other amenities, or attract foreign investments in the manufacturing or service sectors, without a comprehensive analysis of the manpower necessary to provide and sustain such services or investments.

There are already signs that the manpower crunch is having an undesirable effect on employees' health, safety and morale, and on the lives of people who require their services.

Can we afford to wait for a major labour crisis before measures are taken?

Letter by Brenton Ong

This article was published on May 13 in The Straits Times.

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