Foreign workers flow eased for now

Foreign workers flow eased for now
Thomas Fernandez, chairman and CEO of Pestbusters.
PHOTO: The Business Times

Pest control is hardly a "sexy" industry that would attract young Singaporeans.

But PestBusters boss Thomas Fernandez believes he has found a way to be more productive and to pull more Singaporeans into his industry.

"I want to use drones to inspect roof gutters, instead of having men holding onto ladders and climbing up and down to do so," said Mr Fernandez, who is in his 50s and has about 120 staff.

To do this, he needs money to develop the technology and the expertise to train his staff to operate the drones.

Instead of going to different government agencies for resources, Mr Fernandez will soon need to go to just one - the new Lean Enterprise Development (LED) scheme.

The Manpower Ministry said yesterday that the scheme aims to help "progressive" businesses transform and grow, with a Singaporean core, in the new manpower-lean landscape.

The task force, led by Spring Singapore and the Workforce Development Agency, will focus the efforts of various government bodies on helping SMEs, which have been affected by the tightening of foreign labour policies.

The Manpower Ministry is prepared to temporarily relax the Dependency Ratio Ceilings - which spell out how many foreigners can be hired - for companies in this scheme for up to three years.

For example, a company that has reached its local-to-foreign ratio cap can still hire a foreign expert to train Singaporeans who will join the company.

SMEs in this two-year pilot scheme, which starts on Oct 1, will eventually have to adhere to the local-to-foreign worker ratio after its transformation, with each proposal assessed by the task force individually.

After a breakfast meeting with about 120 industry representatives at the Devan Nair Institute yesterday, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said: "There is no intention for us to make any U-turn on our foreign manpower policy... given that this is going to be the new labour landscape...

"We decided that we should step up our efforts to help SMEs to move faster into this new future."

The scheme is aimed at SMEs that are willing to take the lead in restructuring their business models, with the hope that its successes will spur other SMEs to undergo similar transformations.

Why now? Mr Lim said the scheme came about after meetings with the business community since he took on the Manpower portfolio on May 4.

He added: "Why not now?... I believe there's no such thing as a perfect solution... But if we hesitate because of potential issues that may arise, then no change will take place."

POSSIBLE ABUSE

Political observers Mano Sabnani and Eugene Tan welcomed the move as it will provide relief from the manpower crunch faced by many companies.

But Mr Sabnani raised the possibility of companies abusing the new scheme to get more foreign labour.

Both observers said the announcement should not be seen in the context of the coming General Election.

Associate Professor Tan, a law professor at the Singapore Management University, said: "Not all the SMEs can take advantage of this new scheme... But this will probably earn the ruling party brownie points.

"But to sweeten the ground, they would have had to make a U-turn (on foreign labour policies), but that will 'unsweeten' the ground for others in turn."

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say: There is no intention for us to make any U-turn on our foreign manpower policy... given that this is going to be the new labour landscape... We decided that we should step up our efforts to help SMEs to move faster into this new future. news


This article was first published on August 20, 2015.
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