Saturday, 6 June 2015

[Today] Real estate projects consuming S’pore’s limited labour supply

The timing of the Manpower Minister’s message on our labour immigration policy is welcome (“No U-turn on foreign manpower policy: Swee Say”; June 3).
The current action taken (and communicated) by the Government seems to be about reducing the incremental intake of foreign workers.
Some see it as populist, more politically motivated than economically rational, and wonder whether it will be sustained.
What is missing is a convincing rationale for why a foreign workforce of 1.3 million to service a local population of 3.3 million is inadequate to move our economy forward.
The ongoing proliferation of new shopping centres, as Ms Caroline Chung lamented in “Remake Republic into one with strong S’porean core” (June 4), and private housing is possible only through land release.
These real estate projects consume our limited land resources and limited labour supply, for the construction and staffing of these malls. Why the urgency for these rapid developments?
We need a more considered policy to allocate labour resources to support targeted business sectors with the actual potential to generate GDP growth and, just as importantly, jobs for locals supplemented by workers from outside sources where necessary.
Singapore has become a developed, wealthy country with a world-class education system and a highly literate citizenry.
It is ironic that our manpower-shortage dilemma can in no small way be attributed to the inadequate worker skills required by business sectors, intertwined with the low disposable income some local workers command.
Low wages translate into lower costs and potentially higher profits for employers.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, even with wide income inequality, if employees can earn a living wage enough for retirement and commensurate with the country’s per capita wealth.
Singapore has a high-cost environment with limited local labour and land resources.
It cannot provide a competitive advantage for all local and foreign businesses that compete mainly on low cost margins.
We should concentrate on attracting foreign investors in sunrise businesses that derive sustainable benefits from what we already have, such as an educated and trainable workforce, efficient infrastructure, and a stable environment.
For them, we could moderate our worker immigration policy and phase out other foreign operators dependent on low costs/taxes in time.
Also, the educational curriculum in secondary schools should be tweaked to include practical subjects such as customer service and relations, time management, decision-making and economics.
These, together with a more moderate pace of real estate development in the long run, may resolve our tight labour market and low-wage, low-productivity situation in time.