Singapore moves to reduce number of migrant workers

Office workers in a Singapore business district. The state has proposed raising levies on firms hiring foreign labour. (REUTERS)

Singapore will be less welcoming to low-skilled job seekers from abroad as it seeks to cap the proportion of foreigners in the workforce at current levels of about one-third amid growing unhappiness among its citizens.

Singapore depends on foreigners to staff its factories and construction sites but the numbers have risen sharply in recent years. About one-in-three of Singapore's three million workforce is now foreign compared with about 10 percent back in 1990.

"We cannot increase the number of foreign workers as liberally as we did over the last decade, or else we will run up against real physical and social limits," an economic strategies committee led by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in a report released yesterday.

"We want to maintain the current balance as it is," Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong, another member of the committee, told a media briefing. The committee recommended gradually raising the levies firms must pay to hire foreigners to restrict demand and raising productivity among locals and foreign workers already in Singapore. The measures will affect foreigners earning less than S$2,500 (Dh6,519) a month.

The proposals underline Singapore's efforts to reinvent itself in the face of competition from China and India. The government has promoted new industries such as pharmaceuticals, private banking and casinos by lowering taxes and providing other incentives. Tharman said the measures proposed were "nuanced" in that foreign workers were critical to Singapore and it needed to attract highly skilled people from overseas to attain its goal of becoming a global business hub.

 

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