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19 May 2020  (760 Views) 
Out of the box

Reduce reliance on foreign workers
The covid-19 crisis has shown the flaws in Singapore's reliance on foreign workers.

Due to the unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in the foreign worker dormitories, the covid virus has inflected most, if not all, the foreign workers. 

It has caused the government to implement a circuit breaker (it is actually a lockdown) for two months. The cost to the economy is a horrendous $60 billion (my estimate), which could have been used to suspend GST totally for six years. 

Looking ahead, what can Singapore do to reduce the reliance on foreign workers?

We have stop all new infrastructure projects, except for those that are considered to be critical. The existing projects will probably last a few years. 

What do we do after that?

We should plan for local workers to be the backbone of our workforce for the construction industry. Here are the necessary measures:

a) Increase the wages for construction workers to an attractive level.

b) Provide a guarantee of jobs for these workers through a guaranteed flow of government projects.

c) Introduce mechanization and robotics to increase productivity and make the work less labor intensive.

This has to be achieved through a public-private partnership. The government has to take the lead and shoulder the major part of the risk. The private sector can play their role to make this partnership more effective.

The government can play this role because the public sector is a major source of the infrastructure and construction project. They can even manage the flow of construction work in the private sector through proper planning and allocation of resources.

I have another suggestion to bridge the transition to the new environment in the future. 

We can identify the existing foreign workers on work permits who have worked in Singapore for many years and are considered to be productive and of good character. We can offer to them permanent residency, so that they can bring their family to live in Singapore. They can become a part of the local workforce. Some may even be citizens in due course. This will smoothen our transition to a greater reliance on a local workforce.

The key change that is needed from the government is - take the responsibility. We really need the right kind of leadership to address this issue.

Tan Kin Lian


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