Bosses seek local remedy for their labour pains

Bosses seek local remedy for their labour pains

SINGAPORE - If 2012 is remembered as the year of the Great Foreign Labour Squeeze, we are likely to look back at 2013 less dramatically as a year when bosses turned more decisively to locals to fill the manpower gap.

It's not as if employers will stop whining about the tighter rules for hiring foreign workers; in fact, they are likely to complain loudly this year as more restrictive rules come into effect, even as the labour market is expected to stay tight.

But unlike in 2012, when they had hoped their desperate cry - many claimed they were on the brink of business collapse - would soften official hearts and help ease the new restrictions, employers will grudgingly accept this year that the new rules are here to stay.

They will still moan and groan about them but, quietly, bosses will also step up efforts to hire locals while working to boost productivity. In fact, they have already started doing so.

In the Singapore Workforce 2012 report, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) noted that the employment rate for Singaporeans and permanent residents hit a new high of 78.8 per cent, up from 78 per cent in 2011.

Strong job creation drew not just older Singaporeans and PRs to work, but also women. The employment rate for older men reached a record 79.7 per cent last June.

Of course, that has much to do with the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA) which kicked in at the start of 2012. This requires bosses to offer workers who retire at 62 the option to continue working.

Yet the squeeze on recruitment of foreign workers must have played its part, too.

In a tight labour situation - and with the door to hiring foreign workers less open - the conditions attached to re-employment under the RRA tend to be more loosely interpreted in prolonging older workers' employment. So, more could have been retained than usual.

Older workers were not the only ones who accounted for the higher resident employment rate; more younger women and men who have quit prematurely have also rejoined the workforce.

Many of the local employees and those lured back to work are in non- professional, non-managerial, non-executive and non-technical (non-PMET) jobs in the services sector - jobs most foreign workers are recruited to do.

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