As expected, the 2013 budget covers the much-debated issue of the influx of foreign workers in the country.
Indeed, the debate which has opposed those that are worried about their rice bowls being taken away by foreign workers to those seeing measures such as the recent population white paper as “xenophobic” has some very high stakes and needs urgent attention.
Acknowledging the fact that “foreign workers now comprise 33.6% of [the] total workforce”, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam assured Singaporeans that Singapore’s policies will remain guided by the objective of moderating the growth of the foreign workforce and only relying on it when the country has “major infrastructural projects under way,as is the case currently”.
So what does that mean for Singaporeans navigating the job market?
Singaporeans are increasingly becoming aware of the employment landscape’s growing competitivity, not only for low-skilled jobs, but also for those requiring more specialised skills and training – the likes of Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs).
Some people even claim that employment discrimination against them is being practiced, with businesses opting for foreign labour to keep hiring costs low.
On the other hand, we also hear from business owners, who have voiced their concerns on the possibility of tightened restrictions in employing foreign workers.
Steven Long, manager of Sheraton Towers Singapore, has found it difficult to hire Singaporeans to take on certain types of jobs, particularly those in the service frontline, due to irregular shifts and rotation of weekend leave days.
There also exist situations in which hirers are forced to turn to foreign labour due to the lack of interest on the part of the local workforce: according to a commenter on The Straits Times Forum, “most Singaporeans do not seem to be interested in this kind of work – even when we are willing to pay them more than what we pay foreigners”.
The crux here is in trying to achieve a healthy balance of foreign employment and keep ample job opportunities available for locals – all these while maintaining the viability of businesses in Singapore, particularly the local SMEs [link to What do SMEs want for Budget 2013].
On top of attracting talents to Singapore through the foreign talent scheme, the government also needs to reinforce its efforts to bring back home Singaporeans currently studying or residing overseas.
In one of a series of Our Singapore Conversations with the students from the University of Warwick, one of the biggest concerns expressed was the chance of getting a job of their choice upon returning to Singapore.
Beyond achieving high GDP growth and other material aspirations, perhaps it is time for us to take a step back and truly give some thought to what we want versus what we are willing to give up, in order to reprioritise our values and alter our thinking to achieve what’s best for our society.
At the end of the day, our goals are the same – we want to be proud to call Singapore our home!
The question is, will the new measures announced by the government be felt quickly or will a transition period be needed to see real changes?