In his first ever media interview, the newly-appointed Minister Lim Swee Say reiterated that his ministry is not able to help businesses because he cannot afford to adopt a more liberal immigration policy than the current one:

“If we continue to do so, the ratio of local workers versus foreign manpower will continue to decline…One day Singaporeans will wake up to find ourselves as a minority in our Singapore workforce, and obviously that’s not sustainable, that’s not desirable.”

Currently, there are an estimated at least 1.4 million foreigners including Permanent Residents working in Singapore. (Official information on the detailed breakdown of S Passes, E Passes and work permits previously made publicly available has been deleted and cannot be found on the official sites of Singstat and Ministry of Manpower). Just this year, the number of work permit holders has increased to nearly 1 million, along with large increases in the number of S pass holders.

Straits Times Photo: Mark Cheong

In his response to the manpower constraint faced by Singapore businesses, Lim Swee Say said:

“I think at the back of the mind is that given the constraints (businesses) face with manpower, how are they going to be able to respond to external competition…I requested they work together to think and look beyond the considerations of today.”

Although the Manpower Minister have no solution for the problem of manpower constraint, he has actually highlighted four priorities for Singapore’s employment:

1) Becoming more manpower lean;
2) Building a strong Singaporean core;
3) Ensuring the foreign workforce is of good quality;
4) and Maintaining Singapore’s competitiveness.

Lim Swee Say however did not explain on his priorities and how is he going to achieve them. There is also no mention of addressing the issue of having Singaporeans working the longest hours in the world and the salaries of Singaporeans. Lim Swee Say did not comment about the recent high profile cases of fake qualifications flooding Singapore’s market either.

Do you think Lim Swee Say is suitable for the Manpower Minister role?