Public construction projects deferred to ease labour demand

More than $2 billion in public construction projects will be deferred to spread out demand for foreign workers.

But urgent projects such as Housing Board flats will not be affected, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The move is part of efforts to manage the inflow of foreign workers, whose overall arrivals have almost halved since 2011, he added.

Excluding construction workers, the foreign worker growth rate is now a quarter of the rate in 2011.

In construction, the Government has already raised levies and reduced quotas for foreign workers and is improving productivity.

Now it will defer some projects to stagger demand for labour.

"When it comes to HDB houses, when it comes to trains, projects which are urgent, we are going full steam ahead," he said.

But other projects can wait one or two years. These include new ministry and statutory board offices, extensions to Gardens by the Bay on the Marina East side, and the new Science Centre.

Singapore may save on 20,000 or 30,000 foreign workers that way, he said. "These are necessary trade-offs and I hope Singaporeans will understand."

Keeping an eye on foreign labour is part of the Government's policy on population, an issue which "has preoccupied us for these last few years", he said.

The debate on the Population White Paper in February last year was "vigorous and emotional", but helped people to understand the issue and the Government to work out its plans, he added.

Inflows of immigrants and workers have been reduced, the economy is moving towards higher productivity, and the Government will review population planning parameters closer to 2020.

As for foreign workers, the inflow was slowed but not frozen.

Yet this has already been painful for firms, so it is good Singapore did not aim for zero foreign worker growth as suggested by the Workers' Party, said Mr Lee.

He also reassured the House that the Government is paying attention to foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs).

It has tightened standards, is developing Singaporeans and ensuring a level playing field, he said. "So we will continue to do more to give Singaporean PMEs every opportunity to succeed."

This article was first published on May 29, 2014.
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