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Singapore sees no U-turn on curbing low-skilled foreign workers

SINGAPORE — Forget about Singapore’s foreign worker curbs easing up — at least on the low-skilled end.

Singapore sees no U-turn on curbing low-skilled foreign workers

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says the policy to limit the inflow of cheap non-Singaporean labour has forced companies to invest in automation and other productivity-boosting measures, and the island nation doesn’t plan to change that.

SINGAPORE — Forget about Singapore’s foreign worker curbs easing up — at least on the low-skilled end.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat says the policy to limit the inflow of cheap non-Singaporean labour has forced companies to invest in automation and other productivity-boosting measures, and the island nation doesn’t plan to change that.

For higher-skilled work, however, Singapore is forging ahead with a campaign to attract the best talent in order to meet its digital economy goals.

“We cannot continue to rely on sort of low-cost foreign workers, because we need to move towards productivity- and innovation-driven growth,” Mr Heng said in an interview on Friday (Nov 2).

When foreign labour was too freely available in the past, it reduced “the pressure and incentive for companies to take productivity upgrading seriously.”

“We begin to see, for instance, a far greater interest now in looking at automation, mechanisation and ways and means of raising productivity,” he said. “So that policy, as Deputy Prime Minister Tharman has said many times when he was finance minister — that there’s no U-turn — so I don’t think we’ll change that.”

In some high-skilled sectors like financial technology, the government and the Monetary Authority of Singapore are working to address complaints about the difficulty of recruiting workers — in part by super-charging partnerships with local universities to bulk up the talent pool.

“In terms of bringing in people with the right skill sets, the right talent that will complement and that will be part of our growth strategy -- that is something that we’re very focused on, from the Ministry of Manpower to the Ministry of Trade and Industry,” Mr Heng said.

“They are very focused on this issue, and we will want to create the conditions that will allow for the right mix of talent in these new growth areas.” BLOOMBERG

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