Recently PM Lee announced in Parliament that some $2 billion worth of public projects were shelved in order to avoid having to bring in a further 20,000 foreign labourers into the country. This apparently was to appease some Singaporeans who are unhappy about the deluge of foreign workers. But was the government barking up the wrong tree; a misplaced kneejerk reaction to an increasingly loud and vociferous protest towards the government’s manpower policy?
Singaporeans generally are not unhappy about the existence of foreign work permit holders. They are resigned to the fact that these workers are needed to fill the jobs that Singaporeans are unwilling to fill such as construction, ship-building and estate maintenance. Singaporeans are not inconvenienced by these workers. They commute using company buses and lorries thus do not contribute to the overcrowding in public transport. They live, cook and eat in dormitories thus not causing overcrowding in hawker centres and HDB areas. Even on Sundays, Singaporeans are aware of the places these workers congregate and avoid those places. In short, Singaporeans and work permit holders live separate lives with little interaction to cause any antagonism between them.
The same cannot be said about another group of foreign workers; the so-called foreign talents or FTs who are mostly PMETs with employment passes. These workers compete with Singaporeans in many areas. First and foremost and this is the biggest sticking point, they compete directly for executive jobs. And since the FTs are paid lower salaries, many companies are accused of employing them at the expense of Singaporeans. Secondly, FTs tend to stay in rented flats within the heartlands. This has caused overcrowding in HDB common areas and put inflationary pressure on the prices of foods. Furthermore, they travel using public transport causing congestion in the MRT and buses.
And the last group that has caused much unhappiness amongst the general population are the Permanent Residents. They have been accused of being opportunists who are here just to make a quick buck via the many loopholes that have been presented to them. One of which is the HDB policy of allowing them to buy and sell HDB flats for a tidy profit which in turn have caused the price of HDB flats to sky-rocket.
Perhaps it is time for the government to re-calibrate its immigration and manpower policies after taking into consideration the real impact the various groups of foreigners have on the country. To withold public spending in order to cut the numbers of foreign workers may have an adverse knockdown effect on the economy in terms of job-creation and growth. It is not the work permit holders that are causing much consternation to Singaporeans. Rather it is the PMETs and the Prs. In this regard, it will be prudent for the government to find the correct tree to bark on.