Room for some leeway on hiring foreign workers: Swee Say

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say.
The Straits Times

Even as the Manpower Ministry urges firms here to tune their business models to suit a more manpower-lean environment, it remains open to giving employers some leeway with foreign hires.

It is willing to do so, provided employers can show they are serious about change. That was the assurance Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say gave employers at a post-Budget dialogue session yesterday.

He told some 800 senior management and human resource representatives at the close of the 90-minute session: "There's no disagreement that we need to break the manpower bottleneck. Based on your feedback, I think we are on the right track.

"In the process, if you need to have some short-term flexibility on our foreign worker policy, we are prepared to consider - on the condition there is a clear action plan to upgrade, to transform."

Mr Lim stressed that companies need to undergo "short-term transitional periods" so each sector can re-emerge more competitive and attractive for local employment.

But any relief on the foreign worker policy front can only be short-term, he made clear.

"Some of you feel that your sectors have not been able to attract enough Singaporeans. My suggestion is that we work more closely to transform these sectors.

"In the future, you are going to face a lot of limitations in future growth as we become more manpower-lean."

Mr Lim also encouraged employers to approach the Manpower Ministry if they require help redefining jobs and careers.

For firms in fast-changing industries, he addressed concerns of jobs leaving Singapore too quickly, and if the Ministry could create enough new jobs to prevent a "holing out" in certain sectors.

"I want to assure you that for those sectors where job changes are happening very fast, we are going all out to support the job conversions, the upgrading, the re-employability of the workers affected."

There were more questions Mr Lim did not have time to address, but firms can expect answers to their queries individually, a spokesman for the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said.

One shipyard boss who was present felt encouraged by Mr Lim's message. "There are issues that need to be resolved, and this reaffirms what I have been trying to do at my yard," he said.

The dialogue, held at the Raffles City Convention Centre, was organised by SNEF and the Singapore Business Federation.

This article was first published on March 16, 2017.
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