We can’t ditch the dependence on foreign workers

In a Business Times survey with business honchos here recently, almost all of them say we can’t ditch the dependence on foreign workers, but we have to take better care of them.

Is it any surprise?

Cheap foreign workers enable them to make more profits, never mind it is not sustainable in the long run. After all, there is a limited number of foreign workers we can accommodate.

But as a country, we can’t just think of profits for the current financial year, we have to think of our children and grandchildren’s future as well as generations thereafter.

Using cheap foreign workers has short term benefits – lower cost and therefore higher profits for businesses, prolonging a country’s competitiveness in an industry, bringing down the cost of some local goods and services, as well as acting as a buffer for the local workforce to counter the ups and downs of economic cycles.

But it also has long term consequences that cannot be ignored.

Most damaging of all is that it holds back the required transition to a very high valued-added economy that a small country with a small population needs.

Instead, capital, land and manpower continue to be invested in sectors that would otherwise not be profitable if not for the exploitation of cheap foreign workers, resulting in the inefficient use of our country’s resources.

Examples include the construction industry, ship repair industry, oil and gas, environmental maintenance and low value-added manufacturing, among others.

These are sectors that should have been phased out longer ago or should have become more high-tech and productive, but It is extremely difficult to raise productivity so long as employers have access to cheap foreign workers. Why take the risk and trouble of investing huge sums of money into complicated machines and workflow when labour is relatively cheap?

And yet when the foreign worker quota is reduced, businesses complain that they will lose competitiveness and may have to fold. Actually, if they cannot adapt and raise their productivity, they should fold or relocate, otherwise we will continue to waste limited resources on these unsustainable businesses.

Also, over-dependence on cheap foreign workers warps the economy. It has created many companies that cannot pay a living wage for locals, and yet, are profitable, resulting in many locals working full time and yet cannot make ends meet. If businesses find it worthwhile to invest here, they should be able to pay wages that commensurate with the cost of living here, otherwise they should move to a cheaper country.

Last but not least, as long as cheap foreign workers are readily available, employers will not make a sustained effort to re-structure jobs or invest in training to employ retrenched Singaporeans, housewives and retirees who need some pocket money, and there are hundreds of thousands of them. Instead, they are either unemployed, under-employed or doing adhoc jobs.

Covid-19 has furloughed hundreds of thousands of cheap foreign workers. It will take months before they can start work again. In the meanwhile, their companies may be facing insolvency. As cruel as it sounds, this is as good a time as any, to reduce our dependence on them, with the long term view that they should supplement Singaporeans, and not replace them.

So, for business honchos, cheap foreign workers are good for profits, but for citizens, they damage our economy and our livelihoods in the long run and we should stand up against an over-dependence on them.


Foong Swee Fong




15 Responses to “We can’t ditch the dependence on foreign workers”

  • Agreed:

    Time to review our MOM manpower policy and reduce the dependency on FW.
    Better to have short term pain and have sustainable jobs with decent pay for our locals in the long term with more investments to upgrade our industries and people.
    Best time to do it.

    GD Star Rating
  • Too many FT:

    We have too many FT…
    Surprise they are so many FT here when so many local PMETs are unemployed or underemployed.
    Best time to review the FT policy and reduce the FT already here.
    Be more stringent in the criteria to renew the FT pass …
    Surprise to see so many Philippine staff in a private specialist clinic with so little local staff.Such non specialist jobs can easily be done by local who should be able to provide better services without language barrier.
    Why such situation allowed here ?

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  • NotMyProblem:

    “….survey with business honchos here recently, almost all of them say we can’t ditch the dependence on foreign workers,…”

    These are the people who support slavery too!! The bottom line is “CHEAP”!!

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  • trublu:

    Yep,but we can ditch fake FTs anytime-
    This LOCKDOWN,saw a lot of ang mohs idling instead of working from home as they are supposed to?

    So it seems even on NORMAL DAYS,these FTs are not doing work!

    Companies shud send these wastrel$ home so that more productive sgs can be employed at much cheaper wages.

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  • opposition dude:

    PAP would love to have more cheap labour since it’s easy money. When you can collect monthly rental in the form of the worker levy which companies are only too happy to pay up why would you stop? It’s easily millions of free money rolling in seeing we have at least 700k work pass holders. Have you ever noticed that PAP doesn’t disclose how much money it earns from the levy per month?

    And as for those so called unproductive businesses their towkays won’t be listening since they want to make money. They are definitely making profits in those sunset industries or else they would have closed shop long ago. And PAP being PAP would want more businesses set up so as to collect taxes and, of course, more levy from the aliens hired.

    With PAP, money talks and their bullshit walks. You really think they want to curb the alien inflow when there is easy money to be made from their employers paying the levy ah?

    I tell you lah, even if PAP was to raise the levy to something like 80% of the alien’s salary the employer will still happily pay up!

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  • The Virus of Exploitation:

    Weren’t the Cronycrats planning an increase of one million more citizens to pack into our bee hive hdb domiciles? Mr. Foong, HDB Corporation is humongous money for the secret salaries of pappy parliamentarians and the super-scale civil administration.

    They’ve misgoverned this island state with super-inflated costs of living (seven years on top of the world) and its concomitant wide gap in income disparities between the have-a-lot and have-less and have-nots. It’s the only purported first world economy to not guarantee a minimum living wage to its own people. And this country is run by the highest most obscenely paid government officials in the world while the median wage of Singaporeans is tied down at around just over $3000.

    Some time ago a rather naive Aussie professional working here (this guy’s an exception), during a discussion about the socioeconomic conditions prevailing in his country and Singapore took umbrage at me when I opened up that Singaporeans were having a tough time in the job market. He sarcastically remarked how in his several years here he hadn’t seen a single Singaporean willing to work as at construction sites and other labourer jobs. You couldn’t talk with a fellow full of misconceptions: what, don’t they pay something like A$25/hr for low-skilled jobs in Australia?

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  • Blame LKY:

    Singapore cannot “ditch” foreign workers because many, if not most, local companies are only financially viable because they use “cheap” (no CPF), unskilled foreign workers. The underlying problem was started by LKY’s policy of annual GDP growth based on LOW wages. A high-wage policy for growth was not adopted because this would require a well-educated workforce. Note this goes against PAP policy of “pick-the-winner” and ensuring the MAJORITY of young Singaporeans CANNOT go to local universities. (Not too long ago only 20% of each cohort can go to local varsities and later increased to 30%) Why? Because graduates are a threat to PAP political dominance. Why? Because graduates are more knowledgeable, more competent, more confident and likely more idealistic and more vocal. They might join or even setup opposition parties challenging the PAP. Being graduates they are more electable. During the last decade Singapore needed more graduates so PAP “quietly” opened the gates to foreigners and even exempted them from CPF making them significantly cheaper to employ. (Woody Goh confirmed this during the campaigning for GE2011.) Singaporeans lost their job to foreigners big-time (and this continues today) and many wound up unemployed or driving a cab or for UBER/GRAB. The large influx of foreigners also depressed local wages and their demand increased prices further squeezing Singaporeans.

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  • Halimah totally useless:

    The GLCs ( read NTUC, Fairprice, SIA, etc, ) are all into these cheap labour.
    You call Income and you are talking to a Pinoy, you call SIa and you will be speaking to Ah Neh in India.
    You go to Changi Biz Park and you thought you landed in Mumbai, who mainly work in DBS .

    GD Star Rating
  • Sia:

    Foreign workers of all categories are not supplementing local workers, but they’re actually displacing & replacing local S’porean workers!!

    Greedy employers, private local companies, GLC & MNCs continue to hire many foreign workers. No. of S-pass foreign workers keep increasing…these’r jobs that our local diploma graduates can do!!
    Too many foreign workers available for hire in SG, so a lot of companies hire these FW first… SG workers? Nudge 1 side.

    Those jobs advertised by MNCs in MyCareersFuture website are ‘paper exercise’. Those MNCs & lots other companies juz put up a job posting w/o any intention of hiring local workers at all.
    MOM is aware…but r they takin action?

    Over-reliance on vast no. foreign workers has suppressed wages, incomes become stagnant & low productivity.

    This current pandemic has exposed the fallacy of SG economic growth using vast no. of foreign workers, at the expense of S’porean workers, their livelihoods & their future generations.

    This is NOT sustainable at all.
    We must vote wisely in the coming election!!

    GD Star Rating
  • Uselesspap:


    GREAT way to



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  • PAP Screw Us Up:

    You are absolutely right. You look everywhere and you will find Foreigners working in that company. You go to Changi Airport, you will find many Malaysians and other foreigners working in CISCO, AETOS as policemen carrying guns, CIAS and the Airlines.

    You can also find foreigners not only in the lower end jobs but also in the mid range and upper ends. You can find them in NTUC, Singtel and many statutory boards and Ministries. Actually, we should recruit foreigners as our Prime Minister and Ministers. More value for money.

    PAP, are you taking care of Singaporeans or you don’t care. It seems like you only take care of yourself and your cronies. The rest you die your business.

    Well, show them our anger at the coming GE.

    Completely VOTE THE PAP OUT.

    GD Star Rating
  • AristoCATs - depends on them:

    AristoCATs – can’t ditch the dependence on foreign workers-
    Yup, the “Population WhitePaper” – 10m ?

    Double Oops !

    As Rumsfeld highlighted –
    “Known Knowns”? Or
    “Unknown Knowns”?

    OpenGate – pack it in???

    GD Star Rating
  • Don't Forget CECA:

    CECA employment agreement clauses must be revoked or else sg has to continue let in influx from India.

    GD Star Rating
  • oxygen:

    WE ARE A PARASITIC ECONOMY living off imported cheap foreign labor addiction and cosmetic artificial beauties fabrication – not much different from scavenging maggots feeding on a dead rotting economic corpse of no future.

    That is why Present Tense have confessed – the Covid-19 pandemic will force STRUCTURAL CHANGE in our economy.

    But how to restructure a broken economy in which the money/power politics of PAPpypolitics/PAPpynomics are so deeply entrenched of corrupt preservation drive for its own longevity and political hegemony?

    GD Star Rating
  • Anonymous incognito:

    No one owes the cronies market share and profits.
    So adapt or die.

    GD Star Rating

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