Foreign workers: One-third cap is it

Foreign workers: One-third cap is it

There are no further plans to tighten the foreign worker policy unless their numbers rise well above the targeted one-third level, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

The Government, he added, is determined to cap the number at this level, even as many sectors will always need foreign workers.

Locals, including permanent residents, accounted for about 66.4 per cent of employed workers as at December 2012. Foreigners, excluding domestic workers, formed the remaining 33.6 per cent.

"Keep the ratio of foreigners in the workforce to about one-third over the long term. And if we achieve that, we won't need to tighten further," said Mr Tharman, who is Finance Minister.

He accepted that sectors such as construction, health and marine struggle to find Singaporean workers, but there is a clear need to "reduce reliance on manpower" in those sectors.

Mr Tharman was speaking to The Straits Times in a wide-ranging interview on topics such as politics, society and the economy.

Questions posed to him were generated by analysts and economists but readers of The Straits Times' Singapolitics website voted on those he should answer.

The No. 1 question was the hot topic of foreigners and whether the Government plans to tighten policy further, moves which have upset businesses.

Mr Tharman noted that the sectors which rely the most on foreign workers are also the ones with the lowest productivity compared to global leaders. Thus, they have the biggest scope to upgrade. They also tend to be those where local wages have not moved up enough.

Still, he stressed, even as the economy restructures and pain is felt across all firms, the Government is looking out for small and medium enterprises, which generate most of the jobs here.

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