The message for businesses

Published: 3:58 AM, February 26, 2013
Updated: 7:10 AM, February 27, 2013
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More increments in foreign worker levies across the board and a complementary cut in foreign worker quotas for the services and marine sectors will, no doubt, further raise the level of anxiety for affected businesses.

We suspect it won’t be long before we hear from another restaurant pointing out how no Singaporeans turned up for job interviews for waiters.

Although the tightening of foreign worker supply has stoked a buzz in recent weeks, one should not read these measures as being xenophobic. Rather, as the Finance Minister put it, the key emphasis is on reducing reliance on manpower — as opposed to merely replacing foreign workers with locals — in order to “catch up from a decade of slow productivity growth”.

Probably the thought on the minds of many, is whether the underlying message to businesses is to “shape up or ship out”. Or perhaps move offshore while retaining some core functions in Singapore (indeed, help is pledged to small and medium enterprises expanding their overseas footprints).

While this could well be the case (indeed, another minister’s recent written reply to a parliamentary question states that “businesses that cannot restructure and adapt ... may eventually close down”), one wonders whether some sectors, in fact, deserve a greater helping hand.

Take the services industry, like food and beverage, for example. Any further weakening could have a knock-on effect on travel and tourism statistics, a not-insignificant part of our gross domestic product.

Despite the recent announcements of infrastructural link-ups, it will take a while to persuade people to have their next fancy meal in Iskandar.


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