As Singapore continues to tighten the tap on the entry of foreign workers, small and medium-sized companies are facing an increasing shortage of manpower.
This could affect many firms' ability to survive, and ultimately put Singaporeans' jobs at risk, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean warned last night as he wrapped up the population debate at a dialogue on the issue.
Indeed, a survey released last month by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises found that eight in 10 firms were facing manpower shortages, with three in 10 even looking to move overseas in order to survive.
"This is a serious matter because our SMEs employ 70 per cent of our workforce," said DPM Teo, who is in charge of population matters.
"We have to be mindful that many of our SME owners are Singaporeans too. Many of the workers are Singaporeans. If we squeeze too hard, they will lose their jobs too if (the SMEs) move abroad or close down."
Mr Teo was addressing some 220 participants at the last and biggest of a series of dialogues held to discuss the issue.
In an opening speech, he stressed the need for Singapore to raise its birth rate to keep its citizen population stable, and also for new immigrants to help make up the numbers.
But he also spent some time explaining the need for foreign workers, addressing an issue that has raised concerns of overcrowding among many Singaporeans.
While the latest population statistics show a rise in the absolute number of foreign workers, Mr Teo reminded people that the growth of foreign manpower has slowed down. Excluding maids, the growth dropped from 36,800 in the first half of last year to 34,100 in the same period this year. Much of the slowdown came from non-construction sectors.